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Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Samo Salamon - Dolphyology: Complete Eric Dolphy for Solo Guitar (Samo Records, 2022)

By Paul Acquaro

Slovenian guitarist Samo Salamon is having a busy 2022, just half-way into the year and there are at least four recordings that he has released, two of which my colleague Matt Banash reviewed this week: Joy and Sorrow and Pure and Simple. Going back to the start of the year, Salamon released Dolphyology, an ambitious solo guitar project featuring the complete works of Eric Dolphy.

Personally, Eric Dolphy had been a bit of an enigma. When I was growing up in suburban New Jersey, I played bass clarinet and it was suggested to me to listen to Eric Dolphy. I found a CD release of his 1963 release Conversations, but I wasn't sure what I was hearing as it sounded kind of 'normal' to me. For a high school student infatuated with Bob Dylan, Violent Femmes and Dead Milkmen, what could I really hear? However, my love for the bass clarinet never subsided - it's still my favorite instrument next to the guitar - and when Salamon released this effort, fusing Dolphy and the guitar, it was more than time for me to re-explore this music.

This real take away from this rediscovery was already neatly summed up in Salamon's liner notes. He writes, "although Dolphy belongs to the jazz greats, in a way he is still such an underrated improviser and especially composer – having composed beautiful compositions throughout his fairly short career." That's it. The bulk of Dolphy's recording career occurred in the early 1960's, when free jazz was forming, and the reeds-man humbly applied his virtuosic musicianship to his compositions and playing in such a way that the 'in' and the 'out' were subtly and cohesively intertwined. I'm sure many musical scholars have done what if exercises to imagine how he would have continued developing had he not tragically died from complications of undiagnosed diabetes after a concert in Berlin in 1964.

As Salamon further explains, his work on this album was the result of being inspired by a conversation with fellow guitarist Miles Okasaki who had released a solo guitar project of Thelonious Monk's oeuvre (Salamon has a great podcast, Dr. Jazz Talks, which is worth an article itself!). So, using his Covid lockdown time wisely, Salamon revisited some of his own arrangements of Dophy's music that he had been playing and figured out how to make it work on solo guitar. Mixing more straight ahead interpretations with his own improvisations and free-playing, Salamon truly makes the music his own.

Recorded on a small recorder in his apartment, which sounds great, Dolphyology is both an intimate recording with sounds his breath, or a pet along, captured along with the rich sounds of his acoustic six and twelve string guitars and mandolin, as well a major showcase of his own humble virtuosity. The first track of the 2-CD set is 'Miss Movement,' which was a Dolphy composition released in 1958 by Chico Hamilton, in whose band Dolphy got his first career break. The Hamilton version is upbeat, it swings, and sounds pretty modern for the time. Here, Salamon takes the core melody and plays it once slowly and then picks up the tempo, retaining the swinging feel, but stripped of the lush horn arrangements and percussion, it is stark and revealing. The unusual intervals that Dolphy favored can be heard in the melody and the guitarist's improvised lines, revealing the brilliance of the composer even from his earliest output. This track is followed by 'Serene,' from Dolphy's 1961 Prestige recording Out There. Salamon's rendition is austere and gently flowing, in comparison to the slightly original languid version, on which Dolphy's brilliant bass clarinet solo mixes cry of the blues with rapidly repeated figures and smears of notes. Just these first two samplings already showcase the sensitivity to which Salamon approaches the music and the extent in which he made his own musical choices to condense the rich music to a single instrument.

Some other excellent arrangements are 'Lotsa Potsa' (which inspired the name of Dolphy interpreter Silke Eberhardt's project Potsa Lotsa and Posta Lotsa Plus.) Salamon's arrangement features catchy double stops in the head giving the song a slinky momentum. This is followed by a spirited improvisation that follows the general feel of the tune. 'Strength with Unity' seems like it could become a standard, or at least a favorite with guitarists, with its strong lurching introduction and sharp melodic hook. Played on the 12-string, the instruments natural chorus give this rendition an extra resonant richness. The music continue with excellent arrangements of 'In the Blues,' featuring a  frenetic free solo, and 'Red Planet,' with its catchy opening riff, are all found towards the end of disc two shows that Salamon's inspiration did not flag as he worked diligently through Dolphy's music.

Dolphyology is a deep dive into Dolphy's small, but influential, body of work. Every track has sometime to savor, acoustically and musically. This is a must for guitarists, Dolphyologists, and everyone in-between.