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Oliver Nelson: The Blues and the Abstract Truth

Oliver Nelson: The Blues and the Abstract Truth (Impulse!, 1961)

Freddie Hubbard, Bill Evans, Paul Chambers, and Roy Haynes are critical parts of this album’s all-star septet, but the key relationship is between the two saxophonists, Oliver Nelson (mostly on tenor, with one alto exception) and Eric Dolphy (mostly on alto, plus occasional flute). Nelson represents the blues, with an approach that comes out of earthy motivic improvisation; Dolphy represents the abstract truth, with an approach that comes from somewhere slightly east of Alpha Centauri. The combination is explosive. If it only contained one track, the opener “Stolen Moments,” this album would be a classic. But the rest of the tunes (all penned by Nelson) set a standard for mid-size ensemble arranging that still holds today, ensuring—unfairly—that Nelson would be remembered more as an arranger than as a player. The other two discs he made with Dolphy, Screamin’ the Blues (1960) and Straight Ahead (1961), help right that balance; if you love this album (and honestly, how could you not?), do yourself a favor and check those out too. MAC RANDALL

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