Should It Stay or Should It Go?

Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Loneliest Number

Artists: Dave Brubeck Quartet; Eric Dolphy; Erroll Garner
Albums: Time Out (DBQ); Out to Lunch (ED); Concert by the Sea (EG)
Source: Bought new (DBQ, ED); gift (EG)

Jazz is an especially fertile field for the obsessive collector type. The idea of assembling a "core collection" would, in a conservative estimate, entail dozens upon dozens of purchases. Which is not to say other genres are too slight. Rather, if you're going to get the core catalogues of, say, Led Zeppelin and Patti Smith, you're talking about maybe 10 records; trying to do the same for Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk would require a small truck to haul it all home.

Accordingly, once I latch onto a jazz artist, the discs can start to pile up pretty seriously. Dave Douglas is still putting out records, and the two or three dozen discs of Miles' music still feels woefully incomplete. It can be a bit of a hazard, this collecting thing.

Which is why it's also nice to encounter artists like the three in question here: Dave Brubeck, Eric Dolphy and Erroll Garner. With each of these guys, I've got one - and only one - piece of their estimable catalogues...which is AOK by me. This is not to denigrate them as makers of musical statements. In fact, I really and totally dig all three of these discs.

But somehow, each one is just enough.

I find this reaction strangest with the Brubeck disc. This is one of those iconic platters, with actual, honest-to-goodness hits included ("Take Five" and "Blue Rondo a la Turk"). It would be easy to already be sick of some of these tunes before you've even heard the whole thing, but that's just not my experience of Time Out. Instead, I never get tired of it, from the watertight compositions to the band's icy-hot playing (especially the blue smoke that drifts out of Paul Desmond's sax). I love it every time, I reach for it often, and it doesn't make me feel like I need to have more in order to get the full picture.

Dolphy is a different case. In this instance, the thing is that I do have much, much more of his stuff: Eric Dolphy is a sideman on some of my favorite jazz dates: his recordings with Mingus, his tracks with Coltrane at the Village Vanguard, and certainly Oliver Nelson's The Blues and the Abstract Truth. I thoroughly dig Dolphy's playing...and the truth is that Out to Lunch, while perfectly enjoyable, is the least of The Beast's discs on which he appears. Like Time Out, this one is a pure pleasure to hear, and yet for this guy when I do want to hear more, it's his work with other people that gets me going. Some were born to lead, and Dolphy seems to have been dropped on Earth for a brief run of kicking other people's records into higher gear.

And then there's Erroll Garner. I'd never heard of him when my uncle gave me Concert by the Sea as a gift, and I was glad to make the pianist's acquaintance. Though it doesn't contain his best-known track ("Misty"), the 11 tunes it does have are all tightly melodic creations, well-played by Garner's trio. I don't reach for it too often, but when I do Concert by the Sea is always a pleasure. It's entirely satisfying, but doesn't make me curious to hear more. Having not known this was on offer, it continues to be a welcome (if originally unexpected) guest who knows how not to outstay that welcome.

SISOSIG? Though for a trio different reasons, all three of these are keepers. There's little danger of my Brubeck, Dolphy or Garner holdings increasing (though I suspect there are more of ED's sideman projects to acquire), but I'd be sad to see them decrease from their current counts of the loneliest number.

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