charlestolliver

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

Andrew Hill ‘One For One’

I can’t honestly say that Andrew Hill’s music is the easiest or most obvious jazz to get one’s head around. But I can honestly say that his music has been some of the most consistently thrilling, engaging, and satisfying music I’ve discovered. The unexpected is the only constant in his boundary-testing music, and his run of excellence at Blue Note from 63-70–with over 15 albums worth of material that were all top shelf—is the stuff of legend. ‘One For One’ is a 1975 compilation from 3 previously unreleased sessions:
1965: Freddie Hubbard (cornet) Joe Henderson (tenor sax) Richard Davis (bass) & Joe Chambers (drums)
1969: Bennie Maupin (tenor sax, flute) Sanford Allen (violin) Al Brown, Selwart Clarke (viola) Kermit Moore (cello) Ron Carter (bass) & Mickey Roker (drums)
1970: Bennie Maupin (tenor, flute & bass clarinet) Pat Patrick (alto, flute & baritone sax) Charles Tolliver (trumpet) & Ben Riley (drums)
“Ocho Rios” from the ‘65 session may be my favorite Hill track, ever. Some of the material (and then some) was eventually issued as ‘Pax’ and all if it (and even more) was issued as a Mosaic 3CD box some years later. I like the way Joe Henderson is mixed on this LP more so than the CD—to my ears, his presence is more ferocious on vinyl, and he’s going more toe-to-toe with Hubbard. On the CD, there’s something about the mix that makes him sound a bit tamer, which gives a different sonic fingerprint to the session, relegating Henderson more to the role of straight-man to Hubbard’s youthful brashness. But that’s my ears, and you should trust yours, and both LP and CD have lots to offer. The Blue Note Classics Twofers LP series is largely high quality, with unissued material and good liner notes. Most can still be found without too much trouble or $, but they have gotten scarcer, and prices have risen…if you collect, don’t sleep on these. I have yet to get one I haven’t loved

Roy Ayers ‘Virgo Vibes’

Advanced hard bop, post-bop, and modal grooves come to life on ‘Virgo Vibes,’ recorded for Atlantic in early 1967 by an INCREDIBLE band led by vibes ace Roy Ayers. Side A finds Ayers leading Charles Tolliver-trumpet, Joe Henderson-tenor sax, Herbie Hancock-piano, Reggie Workman-bass, and Bruno Carr-drums, and is highlighted by Tolliver’s opening original “The Ringer.” Side B retains Tolliver on trumpet, joined by Harold Land-tenor sax, Jack Wilson-piano, Buster Williams-bass, and Donald Bailey-drums. The two tracks here—both Ayers originals—occasionally dip into post-bop waters, but the blues undercurrents ground them deeply enough to prevent anything from sounding too abstract or free. Ayers would find greater commercial success in the 70s in the jazz-funk area, laying the groundwork for the birth of acid jazz and neo-soul, but if you’re looking for those sounds, you won’t find them here—this is a classic jazz record through and through. Notes: Herbie Hancock is credited on this record as Ronnie Clark (likely for contractual reasons). Also, the CD reissue contains two bonus tracks, which I’ve not heard, performed by the Side B lineup

Andrew Hill ‘Dance With Death’

Pianist Andrew Hill’s ‘Dance With Death’ is one of THE BEST sessions made for Blue Note in the late 1960s. Sadly, it sat on the shelf for quite a while as tastes and marketing teams had shifted their focus towards more commercial and soul-jazz outings, and ‘Dance With Death’ is pretty far from both. ‘Dance With Death’ is an inventive, inside/outside, post-bop affair that’s pretty much guaranteed to capture and retain your undivided attention. “Fish n Rice” is a boogaloo-on-LSD dance number for people with two left feet. “Love Nocturne” is the kind of ballad you’d definitely NOT bring home to mom. The title track is a mid-tempo noir soundtrack to an unsolvable mystery—the mystery to me being how the drummer manages to tread the air above the din, locking into a modified 4/4 while his bandmates are working with complex fractions. Hill’s compositions are adventurous, and he’s got a top-flight band to realize his vision: Charles Tolliver-trumpet, Joe Farrell-tenor/soprano sax, Victor Sproles-bass, & Billy Higgins-drums. Joe Farrell and Charles Tolliver are a particularly well-matched brass pair, sounding positively HUGE when going into lockstep. Tolliver, in particular, solos with confidence and agility. His chops are on display, but he never crosses the line into overplaying. Hill’s run at Blue Note from 63-70 is rather fantastic, with a dozen-plus sessions/albums that are all worth hearing and most worth owning. I’d put this one, ‘Passing Ships,’ and ‘Pax’ at the top of my list of Andrew Hill requests/suggestions for the team @donwas @jazzsaraswati

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

Horace Silver ‘Serenade to a Soul Sister’

Silver’s flair for melody, funky style, and inspired choice of bandmates results in another classic. While ’The Jody Grind’ remains my favorite Horace Silver-led session, this one has raced up the charts quickly into second place. If the opening track doesn’t put a smile on your face, inspire you to get into the groove and boogie, you need a drink. Or therapy. Or both. Certainly one of the happier jazz records one can reach for, and overall a great listen. It features a who’s who of talent, including Charles Tolliver (trumpet), Bennie Maupin (sax), Stanley Turrentine (tenor sax), Bob Cranshaw (bass), Mickey Roker (drums) and Billy Cobham (drums). Terrific soundtrack to a beautiful NYC morning