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Four good reasons to go ‘Out to Lunch’ tonight

Jazz great Eric Dolphy is not nearly as well-known among the general public as, say, Miles Davis or John Coltrane.

Jazz great Eric Dolphy is not nearly as well-known among the general public as, say, Miles Davis or John Coltrane. Among jazz artists and fans, he is revered for his technique, his composing skills, and for having one foot in tradition and the other in the avant-garde.

Bassist Charles Mingus called Dolphy a saint, and his sainthood was assured when he died in 1964, just 36 years old, because of complications from diabetes. He never used drugs or alcohol. His only addiction was to practicing: saxophone, clarinet, flute.

Dolphy’s music comes to life tonight at MacPhail Center for Music, when the Out to Lunch Quintet convenes for a Jazz Thursdays concert co-presented with the Twin Cities Jazz Society. Named for “Out to Lunch,” Dolphy’s most famous and influential album, the Quintet was originally formed for a single performance in Northfield in early 2006.

Backing up: In early 2005, vibist Dave Hagedorn (who teaches at St. Olaf College, which explains the Northfield connection) brought a Dolphy chart to a performance at the Artists’ Quarter. Don Berryman, publisher of the Jazz Police website, was in the house and liked what he heard: Dolphy’s “Hat and Beard,” still fresh and crackling, played live. Berryman first heard “Out to Lunch” as a teenager and, in ’70s-speak, it blew his mind. He suggested to Hagedorn that it would be exciting to hear the whole album in live performance.

On Feb. 17, 2006, Berryman braved a winter storm and killer wind chill to drive to St. Olaf for “Still Out to Lunch: The Music of Eric Dolphy,” a concert sponsored by the Twin Cities Jazz Society. Berryman remembers that night well: “Sub-zero and a snowstorm, blowing, it was crazy … and a great show.” Hagedorn had assembled a quintet of fine area musicians including Kelly Rossum on trumpet, Phil Hey on drums, Tom Lewis on bass, and Dave Milne on Dolphy’s instruments: alto sax, bass clarinet, flute.

The concert was so successful that the quintet stayed together, performing a couple of times each year. And Berryman produced a CD, “The Out to Lunch Quintet Live at the Artists’ Quarter,” recorded over two nights in June 2006. Reviews have been glowing; writing for “Jazz Improv” magazine, Dan Bilawsky noted, “I am more inclined to listen to these Dolphy interpretations than the originals.”

Dolphy’s music — dissonant, unpredictable, full of unusual time signatures — is hard to play. But it’s fun to hear, especially live. Creative, energetic, elegant, sassy, it will engage your whole brain, along with your heart and soul. Watch a video here.

Four reasons to go:

1.    Dolphy’s music is seldom performed live. Kelly Rossum has received emails from all over the world about how unusual the OTLQ is. “We take it for granted because this band is around,” Rossum says, “but to hear Dolphy’s music is a rare treat.”

2. The performance will be in MacPhail’s Antonello Hall, a warm and inviting, acoustically exquisite jewel box of a space. Rossum again: “If you haven’t seen the new MacPhail, it’s time.”

3. It may be your last chance to experience the original OTLQ; Rossum is moving to New York at the end of the summer.

4. The CD will be for sale.

Out to Lunch Quintet, MacPhail Center for Music, 8 p.m. tonight, $10 at the door ($5 for Twin Cities Jazz Society members).