Clifford Jordan – The Complete Clifford Jordan Strata-East Sessions – Mosaic Records (6 CDs)

by | Dec 7, 2013 | Jazz CD Reviews

Clifford Jordan – The Complete Clifford Jordan Strata-East Sessions – Mosaic Records MD6-256 (6 CDs) – 1968-69 & 1973 – [12/3/13] ****:

(Artists include: Clifford Jordan- tenor sax; Don Cherry, Kenny Dorham – trumpet; Charles Brackeen, Luqman Lateef, Pharoah Sanders – tenor sax (+ flute, percussion); Cecil Payne – bari. and alto sax; Julian Priester – trombone; Sonny Fortune – flute, alto sax; Howard Johnson – tuba; Wynton Kelly, Lonnie Liston Smith, Stanley Cowell, Cedar Walton – piano; Sonny Sharrock – guitar; Wilbur Ware, Richard Davis, Charlie Haden, Cecil McBee, Norris Jones, Bill Lee, Sam Jones – bass; Albert Heath, Ed Blackwell, Bill Higgins, Dennis Charles, Billy Hart, Majeed Shabazz, Chief Bey, Roger Blank – drums; Leon Thomas – vocals, percussion)

Albums in Set:
Clifford Jordan In the World
Cecil Payne – Zodiac
Charles Brackeen – Rhythm X
Ed Blackwell – Shades of Edward Blackwell
Pharoah Sanders – Izipho Zam (My Gifts)
Wilbur Ware – Super Bass
Clifford Jordan – Glass Bead Games

Besides his undeniable talent as a supreme craftsmen on the tenor sax, Clifford Jordan had a restless side as a jazz figure. He wanted to bridge his interest and talents as a mainstream and hard bop musician with his more adventurous interest in other freer forms of jazz expression. Jordan’s ability to interpret exquisite ballads (witness the 1986 Royal Ballads issue on Criss Cross) is well known. He could push the hard bop limits with Sun Ra’s John Gilmore on Jordan’s initial date as a leader in 1957, on Blowing in From Chicago, on Blue Note. Later in his career he could fit in with Charles Mingus and Eric Dolphy, as well as Sonny Stitt, Horace Silver, Kenny Dorham, and Max Roach. In the mid-’70s he spent two years with Cedar Walton in a quartet setting.

Yet Jordan had an early strong interest in both producing and fostering young creative more avant talent. With literary publisher Harvey Brown, in 1968, Jordan began this quest with a label called Frontier Records that never really took off. With musicians, Ed Blackwell, Wilbur Ware, and Don Cherry, Jordan produced late ’60s albums that bridged mainstream with open expression motifs. Jordan got together with trumpeter Charles Tolliver and pianist Stanley Cowell, who introduced Strata-East Records in 1971, with the goal of releasing artist-owned and produced jazz albums that pushed the envelope a bit, while still keeping the finished product still accessible to the general jazz public. Jordan’s productions were marketed as The Dolphy Series, and although they did not feature Dolphy, they did employ Eric’s ideas of merging more traditional jazz into the realms of marketable envelope stretching expression. Jordan had found a home on Strata-East to help express his creative talents.

Mosaic Records in their inimitable attempts to present historically significant jazz in comprehensive reasonably-priced box sets, has just released a 6-CD set comprised of seven albums from the Dolphy Series. As is true with Clifford Jordan’s vision, the music ranges from the mainstream Cecil Payne and Wilbur Ware, to albums by Charles Brackeen, Ed Blackwell, and Pharoah Sanders that require patience and a broadening of musical appreciation.  Significant in these releases are sessions with more than one bassist and the use of multiple drummers.

The leader of each session wrote many, if not all, the tracks himself, and there is not a single standard among the entire 43 tracks. After all, Jordan’s vision was about letting the leader freely express their own vision. There was to be no interference by label executives demanding recognizable older work. Throughout Strata-East’s existence this artistic freedom can be found, and some of both Charles Tolliver and Stanley Cowell’s best work can be found on their own label.

Bringing further value to this box set is the cream of the crop talent of the day. Among the greatest young talent on piano, bass, and drums are found on this Clifford Jordan set. Though the horns can take over center stage, it is the bassists, and especially drummers that propel these newly introduced highly rhythmic compositions. Most all tracks exceed five minutes and they extend all the way to Pharoah Sanders’ title track, “Izipho Zam,” which at 28:50 took up an entire album side. The musicians could stretch out, without constraint, and fully explore thematic themes.

Opening up with Jordan’s In the World, Clifford explores a mournful “Vienna” with an all-star group. Albert Heath drives the beat while Cliff plays with passion in the upper register. “Doug’s Prelude” honoring Doug Watkins, who passed away at the tender age of 28, is gentle and tender. The last two cuts on this album substitute Kenny Dorham on trumpet and have the dynamic Roy Haynes and Ed Blackwell sharing drumming duties backed by two basses. “Ouagoudougou” re-explores Jordan’s memory of his visit to the African capital on a tour with Randy Weston.

Zodiac, the album from Cecil Payne, is on Disc 2, and has all Payne originals, and a straight-up quintet line-up. There are tributes to Martin Luther King, Jr. and Slide Hampton, and Cecil’s range on the baritone sax is demonstrated, as is his alto sax interaction with Kenny Dorham on the Hampton tribute. The Payne album is a soulful bluesy romp and proof that Jordan’s intent on this series of albums was explore the full range of jazz, not ignoring the jazz tradition.

Disc 3 comprises the most challenging music of the entire set. Saxophonist Charles Brackeen records with Don Cherry, Charlie Haden and Ed Blackwell. Brackeen blows with abandon, with Haden providing a solid bottom end. I found that drummer Ed Blackwell to be the glue that holds this set together as Ed relies on the drums more so than the cymbals. Blackwell can ably mix free playing with a New Orleans beat that keeps the accessibility factor present. Never showboating, Blackwell is solidly in the groove, satisfied to be an able team member. His solo on the title cut is apt demonstration. I dug “Hour Glass” for Don Cherry’s trumpet lines, Haden’s arco bass, and especially for Blackwell’s drum mallet work. “Charles Concept” channels Ornette Coleman. “C. B. Blues” opens with Don Cherry free blowing before Brackeen’s tenor explores passionate blues.

Shades of Edward Blackwell is next and is released here for the first time. It has two sessions, one with unheralded Luqman Lateef, on tenor, and the other a drums-only gem with Blackwell sharing percussion with Billy Higgins, and Dennis Charles, while Roger Blank and Clifford Jordan accompany on log drums, and Huss Charles is added on conga drum. The first session has Cherry and Lateef blending well on a moving rendition of “That Moment of Glance.” “Farid” has a Middle Eastern motif meeting with the blues. The second drumming session will bring to mind sessions that Art Blakey and Max Roach had that explored world and African music. March beats feature prominently, and experiencing the log drums is recommended.

Pharoah Sanders’ only recording for Strata East is next. “Prince of Peace” features Leon Thomas’ yodeling, which is an acquired taste. Howard Johnson’s bellowing tuba is the featured instrument, as Jordan sits out. “Balance” has Sanders’ wild tenor interacting with Johnson’s tuba and Lonnie Liston Smith’s piano anchor. These two tracks lead up to the album’s centerpiece, the title track at a monumental 28:50. I like its description in Willard Jenkins’ liner notes as “a black consciousness folk melody.” Guitarist Sonny Sharrock and Sonny Fortune’s alto help in the journey. At the eight-to-nine-minute mark the yodeling backs off, and the percussion makes the experience more palatable while Pharoah and Sonny bring in new life and excitement.

Among the most historically significant achievements on this set is the inclusion of Wilbur Ware’s Super Bass, recorded in January, 1968. It is only Wilbur’s second leader date, and features Cherry, Jordan, and Blackwell. Jordan contributes two tracks, and the remaining seven numbers are from Wilbur, including a five minute monologue. Many of the songs are tributes to his family members. It is a real opportunity to experience Ware’s bass prowess, as he is very upfront in the mix. His “Symphony for JR” (his son) and “By Myself” are solo pieces that surely will be required listening for today’s jazz bassists. Also worth mentioning are Jordan’s solos on “Wilbur’s Red Cross,” and “A Real Nice Lady.”

The Strata-East Sessions are closed with Jordan’s Glass Bead Games from 1973. It is made up of two quartets, one with Stanley Cowell and Bill Lee, and the other with Cedar Walton and Sam Jones. Billy Higgins plays drums on both sessions. This is a long awaited re-release, and the song selection has Clifford honor directly “Cal Massey”, “John Coltrane”, “Eddie Harris” and “Powerful Paul Robeson.” The tributes are heartfelt, and there is a spiritual vibe throughout that is exemplified by “Prayer to the People.” Clifford clearly is the star here with able backing by two supreme rhythm sections. His playing combines passion, soul, and gorgeous tone. It is a fitting ending to this continually fascinating box set.

Props as usual to Mosaic Records for putting this set out, and to remastering guru Malcolm Addey, for the pristine sound found throughout. This box set is available in a limited 5000 numbered run. For fans of Mr. Jordan and the Strata-East catalog, get your order promptly in to Mosaic before this set is snapped up…


Disc 1: Clifford Jordan In the World

Vienna, Doug’s Prelude, Ouagoudougou, 872

Disc 2: Cecil Payne-Zodiac

Martin Luther King, Jr./ I Know Love, Girl, You Got a Home, Slide Hampton, Follow Me, Flying Fish

Disc 3: Charles Brackeen-Rhythm X / Ed Blackwell-Shades of Edward Blackwell:

Rhythm X, Hour Glass, Charles Concept, C.B. Blues

That Moment of Glance, Farid, Drum Expose, The Eternal Rhythm, In Walked Buhaina, Shades of General Lefty

Disc 4: Pharoah Sanders-Izipho Zam (My Gifts)

Prince of Peace, Balance, Izipho Zam

Disc 5: Wilbur Ware- Super Bass

Mod House, Symphony for JR, Wilbur’s Red Cross, A Real Nice Lady, For Frazier, Felicia, Veneida, & Bernard, By Myself, Mod House (incomplete take), For Frazier, Felicia, Veneida, and Bernard (alt take), Wilbur Reflects

Disc 6: Clifford Jordan – Glass Bead Games

Powerful Paul Robeson, The Glass Bead Games, Prayer to the People, Cal Massey, John Coltrane, Eddie Harris, Biskit, Shoulders, Bridgework, Maimoun, Alias Buster Henry, One for Amos

—Jeff Krow

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