Another excellent vinyl reissue from Pure Pleasure Records.
Charles Tolliver’s Music Inc: Live In Tokyo – Strata-East Records/Trio Records (1974)/Pure Pleasure Records (2022) 180-gram stereo vinyl 49:53 ****1/2:
(Charles Tolliver – trumpet, flugelhorn; Clifford Barbaro – drums; Stanley Cowell – piano; Clint Houston – double bass)
Strata-East Records was founded in 1971 by trumpeter Charles Tolliver and pianist Stanley Cowell. With a creed of artistic integrity and musician-oriented policies, the label became a beacon for independent jazz. In the initial decade, Strata-East released close to 60 albums. Operating on a minimal budget, the musicians were part of the unique business model. Perhaps, their most commercial act was Gil Scot-Heron and Brian Jackson, who released Winter In America. “The Bottle” became a solitary hit, landing at #20 on the r & b charts. Audiophile vinyl label Pure Pleasure Records has been integral in the resurgence of Strata-East Records.
One of the label’s current releases is Charles Tolliver’s Music Inc: Live In Tokyo. Recorded in 1973 at Youbinchokin Hall in Tokyo, the live quartet (Music Inc.) features Tolliver and Cowell with a rhythm section of Clint Houston (double bass) and Clifford Barbaro (drums). The performance captures the essence of the trumpeter and this label. It is a quintessential glimpse into Strata-East’s idiomatic hard bop. Side A opens (“Drought”) with the swirling crescendos and crystalline trumpet of Tolliver. The extended “free” opening is passionate and allows Tolliver to take command. At the 2:30 mark, it transitions to frenetic swing as Houston and Barbaro propel the furious jam. Cowell’s thunderous chords keeps up the urgency. His piano solo is incendiary and has some deft tempo shifts. Barbaro executes a complex breathless solo. The combo maintains the urgency for the entire 12 minutes. “Stretch” utilizes a different arrangement. Houston kicks it off with a finger-snapping, walking double bass. His energetic play is countered by Cowell’s feathery touch. When Tolliver joins in with his bluesy run, there is a shift to a jaunty, classic hard bop grooves. The overall chemistry is palpable.
The mood shifts considerably on the third original Tolliver composition (“Truth”). This gossamer ballad, exudes a melancholy resonance. Tolliver’s instrumental versatility is on full display as he injects delicate nuances with slight vibrato. Cowell contributes an original (“Effi”), too. His technique is extraordinary in this bluesy 3/4 time signature. His unique style distills lyrical, soulful ambiance and swing dynamics. The overall sound is familiar, but not derivative. Tolliver engages with an interesting run that includes trills. However it’s Houston that gets the demure crowd going with a lengthy solo. What better way to close out a great concert than a cover of Monk’s “‘Round Midnight”. The first half of the track is a hauntingly beautiful, late-night reverie. There is a mid-number explosion that approximates bebop frenzy. Tolliver showcases his masterful flexibility with poignant intonation and then forceful staccato accents. Cowell matches the intensity and instrumental gravitas in leading the rhythm section. A ultimate flourish stamps a lasting imprint on this terrific set.
Pure Pleasure Records had done its customary superior job in re-mastering Charles Tolliver’s Music Inc: – Live In Tokyo to 180-gram vinyl. The overall sound mix is very good, despite occasional source-recording inconsistencies. There is good stereo separation.
Side A: Drought; Stretch
Side B: Truth; Effi; ‘Round Midnight.