Eric Dolphy's 1961 appearances at the Five Spot in New York were almost instantly legendary. Part of the reason for this was due to the unfortunate death of his musical foil, trumpeter Booker Little. Just three months after these recordings were made, Little succumbed to uremia at the tender age of 23.
The main reason though is just how incredible these performances are.
Dolphy had recently appeared on Ornette Coleman's landmark Free Jazz album. Booker Little certainly shared an interest in this type of music. And drummer Ed Blackwell was actually still a member of Coleman's quartet at the time.
Adding the classically trained bassist Richard Davis and "traditional" pianist Mal Waldron to this mix made for an interesting group. Waldron, who had played with everyone from Billie Holiday to Charles Mingus, is the backbone here. His playing perfectly grounds even the most fanciful of solo excursions.
On the original Prestige LP version of Eric Dolphy Live At The Five Spot Vol 2, there were but two tracks: "Aggression," and "Like Someone In Love." Dolphy's signature alto sax does not appear on either one. Rather, he plays bass clarinet on "Aggression," and flute on "Like Someone In Love."
Even during this highly experimental era, these were unique instruments for a jazz band. On his composition, "Aggression" Little's trumpet solos absolutely shine. The first five minutes of the track are all him.
Then Dolphy's startling bass clarinet come in and just takes over. It is such a strange sound in this context. He solos with a bit of Coltrane-esque abandon, and somehow it all works. Later, during Waldron's piano solo, one gets an idea of who the young McCoy Tyner may have been listening to.
Side two of the original album was a 20 minute exploration of the old stand-by "Like Someone In Love," which was a hit in 1945 for Bing Crosby. Needless to say, Crosby fans were probably none too thrilled with this version.
Dolphy's flute sounds so eccentric in this format it is fascinating. Yet, like his bass clarinet, it ultimately works. Credit again goes to the amazing trumpet talent of Booker Little, whose duet with Waldron midway through is outstanding.
The two bonus tracks on this re-mastered CD add up to an additional LP's worth of material in their own right. They include Dolphy's own "Number Eight (Potsa Lotsa)," and Little's "Booker's Waltz."
"Number Eight" features Dolphy on alto sax, and is a joy to hear. He is clearly a master of the horn, and takes some fantastic solos. Blackwell's drums are pretty phenomenal too. While he has some nice breaks and solos on the previous tracks, his workouts here are something else.
"Booker's Waltz" closes the set, and it is another very worthy tune. Dolphy pulls out the bass clarinet again, but it is Little's trumpet that brings everything together. The short duet between the two of them is pretty wild. Bassist Richard Davis' finest moments come in this song, during his lengthy (yet never boring) solo turn.
Listening to this music again confirms the status the jazz world has accorded these performances, in no uncertain terms. This was a one of a kind band, and we are fortunate enough to hear them again at their peak.