cecilmcbee

Charles Tolliver/Music Inc. ‘Live at Slugs’

Today marks the 50th anniversary of this remarkable live set of exploratory modal/post-bop that Mr. Charles Tolliver himself has called out as a personal favorite. The audience at Slugs that night must have been pinned to their seats by the intensity of this Music Inc. quartet which also includes Stanley Cowell (piano), Cecil McBee (bass) and Jimmy Hopps (drums). All give stellar performances. Fans of Woody Shaw’s work or ‘Live at the Lighthouse’-era Lee Morgan will *LOVE* this album, which never quite drifts into avant territory though it does peek through the fence to take a glance once in a while. Tracking down Strata East vinyl isn’t easy—original pressings are scarce, bootlegs sound pretty crummy, and unfortunately both volumes have yet to see a modern vinyl reissue, but hopefully an enterprising boutique label might step in? (Looking at you @purepleasurerecords !) However you *CAN* pick them up in (to be honest) much better sound quality as part of the Charles Tolliver ‘Mosaic Select 20’ triple CD, which combines both volumes of the Slugs LPs, the equally terrific (and difficult to find) ‘Live in Tokyo 73’ LP, and a third CD which combines additional tracks from BOTH Slugs and Tokyo which were left off the original LPs due to time constraints. Sound quality on that third CD is a bit thinner than the originally released material but not so much so to impair any listening enjoyment, and the unreleased material is KILLER. Hat tip to Tolliver’s vision in forming Strata East which took a lot of guts—Strata East aspired to establish a greater degree of artist independence in an industry rife with exploitation, institutionalized racism, and the prioritization of commercial potential over artistry. As stated on the back of Vol 1 “MUSIC INC was created out of the desire to assemble men able to see the necessity for the survival of a heritage and an Art in the hopes that the sacrifices and high level of communication between them will eventually reach every soul

Woody Shaw/Anthony Braxton ‘The Iron Men’

This love letter to the work of inside/outside pioneers Andrew Hill, Eric Dolphy, Jackie McLean, Bobby Hutcherson, and all the other “iron men” (as Shaw calls them) is a BURNER. Shaw is joined by Anthony Braxton, who pulls triple duty on alto & soprano sax, as well as clarinet. Shaw is a triple threat as well on trumpet, cornet, and flugelhorn. Arthur Blythe adds alto sax on two tracks as well. They’ve got a knockout rhythm section that’s both fluid and powerful, with Muhal Richard Abrams (piano), Cecil McBee (bass), and drum duties split between Joe Chambers and Victor Lewis. Two sessions were recorded for Muse that comprise this record, one recorded on this day, 6 April, and another a week later on 13 April back in 1977. The material includes homages to Shaw’s earlier collaborations with Eric Dolphy, including the Dolphy original “Iron Man,” as well as Fats Waller’s “Jitterbug Waltz,” which Shaw had performed with Dolphy in the 60s. There’s a rousing, knotty romp through Andrew Hill’s “Symmetry,” which is my second-favorite track on the record, with McBee and Abrams engaging in a game of musical capture-the-flag that’s simply awe-inspiring. Top-of-the-heap, however, is Shaw’s second run at his own “Song of Songs,” originally on the LP of the same name recorded for Contemporary in 1972. The ’72 version sets a spiritual mood. This version is fiercer, tighter, and leaves no ass unkicked. There’s marvelous interplay, terrific solos, and overall it’s a team effort that’s bound to please. Throughout the record, Shaw paints with his entire palette, showcasing both dazzling technique, and a buttery, smooth, tone. As you’d expect with Anthony Braxton on board, some of the music has sharp elbows, but don’t let that intimidate you—this is wonderful music and an under-appreciated Shaw session. Originally released on Muse (MR 5160) in 1981, it’s part of Mosaic’s Complete Muse Recordings of Woody Shaw, which boasts significantly improved sound over the LP

Sam Rivers ‘Involution’

Birthday boy Sam Rivers would have turned 95 years young today. Many know him for his brief stint in the sax chair in @milesdavis embryonic Second Great Quintet where he replaced George Coleman. Rivers would last only briefly (appearing on ‘Miles in Tokyo’) before being replaced by Wayne Shorter. Rivers then stepped out as leader and sideman for Blue Note, Impulse!, Black Saint, RCA, Horo and his own Rivbea label. Rivbea was a portmanteau of his name and his wife Bea, and also the name of their loft where numerous free jazz sessions were held in NYC during the 70s. This two-fer contains a pair of Blue Note sessions from the 60s: one is a quartet under pianist Andrew Hill’s leadership (later released on CD as ‘Change’) featuring Walter Booker (bass) and J.C. Moses (drums) recorded 7 March 1966; the other a sextet under Rivers’ leadership (later issued as ‘Dimensions and Extensions’) recorded 17 Mar 1967 featuring Donald Byrd (trumpet), Julian Priester (trombone), James Spaulding (alto sax/flute), Cecil McBee (bass) and Steve Ellington (drums). Both share a lot of musical DNA—an elusive tonal center, playing that stretches harmonic boundaries and timekeeping that’s not exactly built for clapping along. The compositions are complex and challenging—there’s a lot of “out” playing here as the knotty heads of each tune serve as a launchpad to some seriously ambitious and adventurous group improvisation. Dig deep—there’s swing and beauty though both can be elusive, and don’t believe anyone who says “it’s out there, but still really accessible!”. It’s not…certainly not in the way that Rivers’ earlier Blue Note records like ‘Fuchsia Swing Song’ or ‘Contours’ can sound like hard/post bop records with occasional sharp elbows. ‘Involution’ isn’t for beginners. Or those who are learning to waltz. This is challenging but ultimately really rewarding music. As I’ve previously noted, this beige-cover Blue Note Classics series is uniformly excellent—great pressings, informative liner notes and material that’s otherwise difficult to find. They are also often reasonably priced and pretty easy to find in the wild. Recommended

Charles Tolliver’s Music Inc.

Full-contact jazz that challenges every big band cliché. Way beyond one giant swing-a-long, you’ve got a core quartet of Charles Tolliver (trumpet) Stanley Cowell (piano) Cecil McBee (bass) and Jimmy Hopps (drums) going toe-to-toe with a thirteen-piece brass section. The core four handle the majority of the solos while the big band summon a tsunami of sound, sometimes supporting and sometimes challenging the quartet in a battle of groove. Props to bassist Cecil McBee, who to my ears is the hero of the session, laying down sinewy, elastic bass lines that are a masterclass in soulful inspiration. This record sounds modern, fresh and HUGE. Music Inc. was recently reissued by @purepleasurerecords. The original was the debut release on Strata East, Tolliver/Cowell’s artist-oriented label of the 1970s. Brilliant stuff. The big band: Jimmy Heath, Clifford Jordan, Bobby Brown, Wilbur Brown (saxes); Richard Williams, Virgil Jones, Larry Greenwich, Danny Moore (trumpets); Garnett Brown, Curtis Fuller, John Gordon, Dick Griffin (trombones); Howard Johnson (tuba, baritone sax