Evan Haga Introduces the August 2014 Issue

Club Dolphy

I really enjoyed the month of May, and not only because New York finally stopped resembling some sort of post-apocalyptic ice planet, although the weather continues to make little sense. No, I also got to dig deep into jazz guitar and direct this six-string-focused issue you hold in your hands. An obsession with the guitar was my entrée into music and eventually jazz and the avant-garde, and I continue to follow the instrument’s various traditions with the nostalgic enthusiasm of a fanboy.

So hopefully you’ll forgive me when I admit that, upon learning of the first “Eric Dolphy: Freedom of Sound” festival in Montclair, N.J., I most anticipated the triumvirate of guitarist Vernon Reid, bassist Melvin Gibbs and drummer Pheeroan akLaff-even more than the prospect of hearing unearthed Dolphy music. After all, this group would involve the remaining two-thirds of a powerhouse trio led by the late Ronald Shannon Jackson, the inimitable veteran of Ornette Coleman’s Prime Time who managed to expand and refine that group’s sonic free-funk. And who better to fill Jackson’s place than akLaff, who harbors much of the strength and earth associated with his playing? It was a Knitting Factory dream scenario worth a bus ride to Jersey.

Reid and Gibbs and akLaff did not disappoint. They provided the requisite searching, Hendrix-tinted ambience on “Eastern Voices/Western Dreams,” a Shannon Jackson original that the guitarist and bassist recorded in 1980 as part of the composer’s Decoding Society. And on Sonny Sharrock’s “Dick Dogs,” which imagined an R&B 45 as interpreted by a heavy metal band, Reid got to burn to his heart’s delight-and mine.

But something else happened on this last day in May at Montclair State University: I became enamored of Eric Dolphy, a musician I’ve always liked but one whose cult-like following has perplexed me. Now I feel the stoke of discovery again, like I did with the guitar so many years ago.