Monday, April 14, 2008

Far Cry: It Takes Two

Parker and Gillespie. Ellington and Hodges. Davis and Coltrane. Ellington and Strayhorn. Coleman and Cherry. Ellington and Carney. Dolphy and Little? There have been a great many marvellous duos over the course of jazz's peak period, many of whom remain indelibly linked together in the collective consciousness. Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie's solo works still seem to have each other present, as if acting as consultants to the recording. But beyond the renowned pairings, there were numerous jazz tag teams that fell through the cracks. In But Beautiful, Geoff Dyer writes of the seemingly infinite number of potential collaborations that never occurred (I've long wondered what Lester Young and Miles Davis would have been like together) but what about those superb duos that existed only fleetingly?

Far Cry is regarded as a transitional album, a work that allowed Eric Dolphy to rid himself of his long held Charlie Parker fetish at long last, thereby allowing him to move on towards becoming a leading light of the avant garde jazz movement. As such it's a tribute album: a tribute to Parker and his massive influence, a tribute to the driving spirit of hard bop, a genre on its last legs by 1960, a tribute to Dolphy himself as this represented his coming-out as a leader and a tribute to his ultimately doomed collaboration with trumpeter Booker Little.

The sixties brought forth a more solitary approach to jazz. John Coltrane began to operate within the confines of a quartet, spurning the saxophone-trumpet double team that had served - among others - he and Miles Davis so well. Pianists such as Thelonious Monk and Bill Evans rarely utilized anything beyond the piano trio format. Even Charlie Mingus took a kind of singular tack: his groups remained large but his line-ups were ever changing. (For someone who supposedly found figures like Dolphy and Roland Kirk to be musical kindred spirits, it's odd that he didn't use them more often) With jazz splintering it's probable that potential musical soul mates were often laying eggs in vastly different hen houses.

One can listen to Far Cry and lament that the duo of Dolphy and Little wasn't able to piece together a run of at least four studio recordings in tandem. Little's death less than a year later snuffed out any further collaborations but it's easy to imagine the two never working together again even if they both hadn't met with untimely ends. The heyday of the duo had passed and individualism had taken over.

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