CD review

Charles Tolliver – “Connect”

Charles Tolliver – Connect
(Gearbox Records GB1561. Review by Adam Sieff)

Now 78 years old, trumpeter and composer Charles Tolliver truly deserves full-on legendary jazz hero status. Dizzy Gillespie loved his playing, he recorded major Blue Note sessions for Jackie McLean and Andrew Hill, made many fine albums including his 1968 debut as leader “Paper Man”, which is a true sixties classic, and, together with Stanley Cowell, co-founded Strata-East, one of the first artist-owned jazz labels, which released some wonderful and important music.

Charles Tolliver ConnectLast November he brought his band to London for a run of European dates opening with a show at the Jazz Cafe. This gave Gearbox Records a narrow window of opportunity to record a new album which would then be released to coincide with a full international concert programme this summer. For obvious reasons the tours won’t now be happening, but we still have the album, and it’s a blast.

This is a great band, comprising drummer Lenny White, double bassist Buster Williams, alto-saxophonist Jesse Davis and pianist Keith Brown. In the sleeve notes, Tolliver points out that the musicians were chosen because “they all possessed a complete knowledge of the ‘bonafide underpinnings’ of our Artform’s quintessential genre, and the ‘bonafide’ ability to perform it.”

The one-day session followed the blueprint Gearbox used for recording Abdullah Ibrahim’s “The Balance”, with producer Darrel Sheinman choosing RAK Studios in St Johns Wood and the hugely experienced engineer/mixer Tony Platt.

As well as the normal edition manufactured in Europe, this album is also being manufactured and released on vinyl and CD in Japan, with the vinyl pressed at the superb Toyokasei factory in Yokohama.

There are four tracks, all originals by Tolliver, opening with Blue Soul, a catchy and driving mid-tempo groove featuring fine solos from Brown, Davis and Tolliver. The sound is warm and spacious; this is a live to tape recording and the drum sound is phenomenal, as is Lenny White’s playing.

Next comes a version of Emperor March with its stately rhythm (it’s about Emperor penguins after all) previously heard in a big band setting on 2009’s “Live at the Blue Note”. At over 13 minutes it gives everyone a chance to stretch out and shine, with the first solo taken by guest tenor saxophonist Binker Golding, who sounds perfectly at home in such distinguished company. I hadn’t been aware of Keith Brown previously, he is a wonderful young pianist and reminds me of Kenny Kirkland.

Side two opens with Copaestic, a hip and jaunty tune that put a big grin on my face. It perfectly sets up the closing track Suspicion (previously cut as a big band recording in 2007) which opens with a Buster Williams solo before taking off at a terrifyingly fast tempo with Lenny White positively thunderous. There are ghost lyrics written for three of the tracks giving insight into the composer’s thoughts, and the refrain here is ‘Jive contrive and not too cool, Suspicion all around’. Tolliver’s playing is full of ideas and vision and he’s still very much in control of such a demanding instrument. Binker Golding once again and Jesse Davis play storming solos and the end result is exhilarating – the energy everyone creates here is incredible.

I haven’t been able to stop listening to this, it’s some of the most exciting and vital music I’ve heard for some time. Great tunes, fantastic playing, beautifully recorded.

Connect is released on 31 July on Gearbox Records. 

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