Charles Rouse ‘Two Is One’ 180g Vinyl (Pure Pleasure) 4/5

It hasn’t been long ago at all since I had the fortune of sitting down with a past treasure from the hallowed walls of Strata-East that had been given new life courtesy of the vinyl connoisseurs from Pure Pleasure. From the all-star quartet comprising of Stanley Cowell, Billy Harper, Reggie Workman and Billy Hart, their ‘Such Great Friends’ project – originally recorded back in 1983 – was given its due courtesy of being lovingly gift-wrapped for an all-new generation.

But now the label has the distinct pleasure – (no) pun intended – of repackaging another gem from the Strata-East catalogue with the release of ‘Two Is One’ by Charles Rouse.

Originally released in 1974, saxophonist Charles Rouse (more familiarly known as “Charlie” Rouse outside of this release) really defied expectations with ‘Two Is One’ adopting a bolder and funk-inspired aesthetic within many of the album’s compositions.

By 1974, Rouse was now something of a jazz music veteran – helming his first project as leader by the tail end of the 1950s (‘The Chase Is On’, Bethlehem Records). While further projects would follow over the years positioning Rouse as leader, including releases through Blue Note Records and Jazzland, he would continually find his talents put to use through some exceptional projects including Dizzy Gillespie’s Big Band, Duke Ellington’s Orchestra and Count Basie’s Octet. Perhaps Charlie Rouse’s music may be most noted for serving as part of Thelonious Monk’s quartet from 1959 for over ten years and subsequently founding the Monk tribute collective, Sphere.

But while Rouse’s talents were clearly massively in demand as a collaborator on projects including the aforementioned dream line-up, his achievements as a bandleader – as exemplified by ‘Two Is One’ – absolutely warrant boundless praise. Across the album’s five tracks, the soulful nature of ‘Bitchin’ and ‘Hopscotch’ nicely set the stage for Rouse’s vision but it’s the closing two numbers, ‘Two Is One’ and ‘In His Presence Searching’, that really steal the show. The latter in particular, potentially seeking inspiration from the spiritual jazz icons of that era like Pharoah Sanders, sees the album close with the sublime near ten-minute long masterpiece that honestly deserves your attention.

With Charles Rouse on saxophone duties, the remaining ensemble is comprised of George Davis and Paul Metzke on guitars, Calo Scott on cello, Stanley Clarke and Martin Rivera on bass, David Lee on drums, Airto Moreira on percussion and Azzedin Weston on congas.

Strata-East’s successes as an independent, black-owned hub of innovative and distinct talent celebrating a dynamic scope of jazz – including post-bop, afro and spiritual jazz – will forever serve as the label’s legacy. It is record labels like Strata-East that make projects like ‘Two Is One’ possible.

Imran Mirza