rarejazz

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

Graham Collier ‘Songs For My Father’

Graham Collier’s ‘Songs For My Father’ is a mind-blowing, progressive jazz album of incredible depth. The simplicity of each song title belies its underlying complexity. Each tune is named only for its order on the album, with a subtitle that indicates its structure and time signature. Whether this is unimaginative or genius isn’t for me to judge. Regardless, this nomenclature provides some useful context around the chaos that occurs when the lines between improv and composition get blurry. You guessed it: this isn’t casual background music, and probably not an album for “lean back” listeners. There’s a very British sensibility that gives the record a very different quality than the American jazz of the time. I dig “Song One (Seven-Four)” and “Song Three (Nine-Eight Blues),” both teeming with surprises that lurk around every corner. A couple of the band members here would later branch off into the 70s Canterbury scene, joining forces with Gilgamesh and Soft Machine. Early echoes of that sound are in nascent stages of guitarist Phil Lee’s playing, as well as Alan Wakeman’s soprano solo on the opening track. Today’s post is in memory of my father, who was taken from this world on this day many, many years ago. Graham Collier–bass; Harry Beckett–trumpet, flugelhorn; Phil Lee–guitar; John Taylor–piano; Alan Skidmore & Tony Roberts–tenor sax; Bob Sydor–tenor/alto sax; Alan Wakeman–tenor/soprano sax; Derek Wadsworth–trombone; John Webb–drums. This one is scarce on vinyl (this is a first pressing on Fontana 6309 006, stereo) but available digitally everywhere

Eastern Rebellion

‘Eastern Rebellion’ is an extraordinary, modal/advanced hard bop session from 1975 when it wasn’t particularly fashionable to make records like this. The five long-ish tunes are expertly played by the quartet of George Coleman (tenor sax), Cedar Walton (piano), Sam Jones (bass) and Billy Higgins (drums). This mix on this record is FANTASTIC—there’s a power in this session that the recording engineers captured perfectly, and it leaps from the speakers like the grooves in the vinyl remain charged with energy. Cedar Walton is the de facto leader of the group, kicking things off with his infectious original “Bolivia”—that bassline is quite an earworm, and Sam Jones is mixed nice n’ loud. Walton also kills it on “Mode for Joe,” which he wrote for Joe Henderson. The quartet’s take on “Naima” is TERRIFIC, and a highlight of the record. George Coleman also turns in a superb performance throughout, and the overall chemistry of the quartet results in a killer album that does not AT ALL sound like a child of the 1970s. ‘Eastern Rebellion’ was the first record to be released on the Dutch label Timeless (SJP 101), and it was also issued in the US on the Muse label (TI 306). It’s widely available across the digital spectrum too! This record doesn’t get talked about enough, and at a time when I see an influx of DMs with requests for records that are a bit off the beaten path, this seems like a good choice for a spin

Grant Green ‘Feelin’ the Spirit’

Recorded 21 Dec 1962, ‘Feelin’ the Spirit’ was the last of the “theme” records Green would explore that year. Having previously gone west and then south of the border in previous sessions, Green recruited pianist Herbie Hancock and the ace rhythm duo of bassist Butch Warren and drummer Billy Higgins to take us all to church. The material is a collection of familiar spirituals like “Joshua Fit de Battle ob Jericho” and “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen”, transmogrified into modern, soulful hard bop. The approach here ranges from reflective to celebratory, with the blues running deeply throughout. The interplay between Green and Hancock is marvelous, and while the tempos never really swing hard, the intensity is palpable. This is 1979 Japanese King pressing GXK 8117, stereo, a reissue of BST 84132. Preach

Henry Franklin ‘The Skipper’

High energy modal/spiritual grooves driven by the formidable bass playing of Henry Franklin and electric piano of Bill Henderson. I dig the frequent nods to early electric Miles and Return to Forever, though I wouldn’t classify this as a fusion record. I’m reminded in places of Eddie Henderson’s sides for Capricorn and Joe Farrell’s CTI records as there’s a similar vibe. The brass frontline—Oscar Brashear on trumpet/flugelhorn & Charles Owens on tenor/soprano sax—wails, swings, duels and soars as Franklin and Henderson scurry busily in, under and around them. There’s some heavy duty yet intricate three-headed beats from drummer Mike Carvin who’s flanked by percussionists Fred Lido and Tip Jones, while guitarist Kenny Climax rears his head only occasionally, but when he does he makes he presence known. “Beauty and the Electric Tub” lays down a groove so deep you wonder how they’re ever gonna find their way out. They do, but they take the scenic route. Tough to find on vinyl, available if you look on CD, but seemingly absent from the usual streaming services other than YouTube. Obscure but worth searching for, as are most of the albums on the Black Jazz label. Franklin recorded a follow-up, the equally scarce ‘The Skipper at Home’, a favorite, particularly after a couple of tracks were sampled by A Tribe Called Quest. Franklin has an extensive discography with more than a dozen sessions as a leader, and sideman credits on over 100 records ranging from Stevie Wonder to Ornette Coleman. He’s still out there playing and recording…more power to you Mr. Franklin

Prince Lasha Ensemble ‘Insight’

Farewell London! It was a VERY memorable 36 hours. Feels appropriate to leave with another memorable UK session—a rare “in the box” session from Prince Lasha (alto sax/flute) who was living in Kensington in 1966 mixing it up with a British jazz cast including Stan Tracey & Mike Carr (piano); Rick Laird, Jeff Clyne, Bruce Cale & Dave Willis (bass); John Mumford (trombone), Joe Oliver (drums) and Chris Bateson (trumpet). However the SECRET SAUCE of the session is Dave Snell on harp which elevates this collection of standards and two Lasha originals into something truly special. It’s wild how the harp sounds so unexpected yet it fits perfectly. This is an amazing record, and for those who’ve struggled a bit with Lasha’s more challenging, edgy work (like the masterful follow-up ‘Firebirds’ with Sonny Simmons) this is something you could easily play without clearing the room. Much to my surprise, this session was for a big player—CBS Records UK (CBS-BPG 62409, stereo, issued 1966) though it never saw US release. The vinyl is elusive, the 2009 Dusty Groove CD reissue is around and a reasonable alternative. The two Lasha originals are the standout tracks but everything is really well played. Recommended