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by Seth Colter Walls

June 6, 2014

Blue Note Nuggets Vol. 6: 1964

by Seth Colter Walls  |  June 6, 2014

In honor of Blue Note's 75th anniversary, we've launching a series that takes a look back at hits and obscurities from one of the most important catalogs in all of jazz. From blues to hard bop -- and onto fusion and the avant-garde -- Blue Note has been there. Now you can be, too!

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the great composer and instrumentalist Eric Dolphy's iconic album Out to Lunch. Not only a standout among the ranks of albums released in 1964, Out to Lunch is also a landmark piece of 20th Century American art, full stop. Appropriately, the album's leadoff track, "Hat and Beard," kicks off our latest mix in our series of playlists dedicated to the jazz label.

Like much revolutionary art, it looks back even as it pushes fearlessly into the still-uncertain future. The title is a clear reference to Thelonious Monk -- as is the jagged but memorable opening theme. But Dolphy's opening bass clarinet solo is something else entirely: The grinding, reedy explosions in the improvisation would have been familiar to anyone who caught Dolphy on the Village Vanguard bandstand in 1961, with John Coltrane's quartet. But in the ensuing three years -- during which time Dolphy was a constant presence in the bands of Charles Mingus -- the multi-instrumentalist came even more fully into his own. (The band, with Richard Davis on bass, is also peerless.)

Sadly, Dolphy would not survive the year, dying from complications related to an undiagnosed diabetic condition, while on tour in Europe. It actually hurts to think of all Dolphy might have accomplished, had he lived to grand-old-master age. But at least he lived long enough to put his stamp on American music -- and the rest of the Blue Note roster, too. In our mix, right after "Hat and Beard," we feature a cut from pianist Andrew Hill's 1964 Blue Note album, Point of Departure (which also features Dolphy).

By 1964, print publications weren't deriding this kind of complex composition and free-form improvisation as "anti-jazz" anymore. Lots of artists -- not just experimental mainstays like Grachan Moncur III -- seemed to be on the same stylistic page. Freddie Hubbard was releasing albums with titles like Breaking Point, which drew simultaneously from hard-bop traditions and avant-garde ones. (Herbie Hancock's 14-minute tune "The Egg" even has stretches in which the piano feels percussive and not particularly interested in traditional swing-feel.)

Even better are tunes like Sam Rivers' "Luminous Monolith," Tony Williams' "Tomorrow Afternoon" and Lee Morgan's suite-like "Search for the New Land" (in which the trumpeter showed he could write more than boogaloo-dance hits). With Wayne Shorter's Speak No Evil showing that saxophonist finding his own voice, as well -- and with both Morgan and Shorter contributing to various albums by Blue Note mainstay Art Blakey -- it's hard not to think of 1964 as one of the best years for a label not only in jazz, but in any genre. So click play and get ready to have your hair blown back by Blue Note's timeless class of 1964.

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