Charles Tolliver / Music Inc ‎’Compassion’ 180g Vinyl (Pure Pleasure) 3/5

Released as ‘New Tolliver’ on the Japanese Baystate label in 1978 before being assigned to Charles Tolliver’s own New-York based Strata-East label two years later, ‘Compassion’ sees a welcome reissue of this superb quartet recording on which the leader is joined by Alvin Queen on drums, Nathan Page on guitar and Steve Novosel on bass. The album was recorded in Paris in 1977 and produced by Yoshio Azawa, who recorded many great sessions during the 1970s including those of Archie Shepp, Billy Harper, Marion Brown, Dollar Brand and more. The recording is reissued via the Pure Pleasure record label and comes with high-quality sound and packaging.

From Jacksonville, Florida, Charles Tolliver has long been regarded as one of the 4th generation’s most renowned Jazz musicians and a conduit for some of the great recordings that arrived via his New York-based Strata-East label, which he formed alongside pianist, composer Stanley Cowell in 1971.

A younger vocation in apothecary was the backdrop for the increasing inspiration of a love for the music and thus a career was beginning to emerge at a young age from parental influences and recordings from such early luminaires as Charlie Shavers and Charlie Parker. Making his way to New York, Charles Tolliver’s first break came from the great Jackie Mclean who recruited the young talented trumpeter for his classic Blue Note album ‘It’s Time’ in 1965. It came at a time when the alto-saxophonist was stretching his compositional approach in much the same way as musicians Eric Dolphy and Andrew Hill.

Charles Tolliver and Stanley Cowell started the Strata-East label in 1971, which was quite a step for someone so young. The label went against the grain at a time when record labels, which usually gave room for expression and freedom, were being jostled and cajoled into more commercial leanings against a backdrop of burgeoning styles of music coming through the doors. The label held an important place in history and allowed serious musicians to avoid selling out or queueing at the doors of the major independent Jazz labels of the time looking for a lucky break. There were no contracts involved and the musicians could come and go as they pleased. It was this approach that saw the label become instantly recognised through its release of Gil Scott-Heron’s ‘Winter In America’ album in 1973, which became a huge success for the Strata-East label, allowing the label the deserved kudos and recognition across America and beyond.

Following in the footsteps of such greats as Dizzy Gillespie, Fats Navarro, Clifford Brown, Miles Davis, Lee Morgan, Kenny Dorham and Freddie Hubbard, Charles Tolliver garnered his love of ensemble led recordings from earlier influential collaborations with Gerald Wilson and Oliver Nelson whilst inspired and rooted in the earlier Duke Ellington sound. Following a long break, Charles Tolliver’s 2007 album, ‘With Love’, was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Large Jazz Ensemble. Charles Tolliver occupies an important place within the 4th generation of jazz leaders and a bridge for the younger musicians today.

The four pieces on ‘Compassion’ are all original compositions by Charles Tolliver with ‘Earl’s World’ allowing the quartet ample room for expression. With a mid-tempo medium swing, the leader embellishes the piece with memorable fluid lyrical phrasing and improvisation, showcasing his strength of arrangement and composition. ‘Impact’ fires on all cylinders with some great solo work from all involved. It’s a high energy piece with excellent staccato phrasing from the leader and dynamic rhythmic work on the drums by Alvin Queen. ‘Compassion’ and ‘Truth’ are both slower works that bring out something special from the quartet. The relaxed tone of Charles Tolliver is in harmony with the brush strokes of Alvin Queen and Nathan Page’s guitar on the ballad ‘Truth’.

Drummer Alvin Queen recorded and toured alongside Charles Tolliver in Europe before setting up his own Nilva label in Switzerland which has enjoyed recent interest from some of the collectable albums being reissued. Guitarist Nathan Page collaborated with Jimmy Smith between 1965 and 1970 before joining Doug Carn and the Black Jazz label. Steve Novosel worked extensively alongside multi-instrumentalist Andrew White during the 1970s as well as working with the likes of Donny Hathaway, Lloyd McNeill and Roland Kirk.

One of Charles Tolliver’s best albums, and a rewarding listen.

Mark Jones

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Charles Tolliver ‘Charles Tolliver and his All Stars’ 180g Vinyl (Pure Pleasure) 5/5