Frank Strozier: What’s Goin’ On (1977) Steeplechase

Frank-Strozier-What's-Gion-On-cover-1920-LJCSelection: Ollie (Strozier)


Danny Moore (flugelhorn) Frank Strozier (alto saxophone, flute) Harold Mabern (piano) Stafford James (bass) Louis Hayes (drums) at Media Sound, NYC, November 5, 1977


Last heard recording on 1962, in  1976 Strozier returned to the studio after an absence of fourteen years, at the age of 40. This album leads off with a rather long version of the Marvin Gaye tune “What’s Going On” , which gives the album its’ name. I’m not big on Motown so I give that a wide berth and pick the most melodic of the Strozier compositions, Ollie. It must be a diminutive of Oliver, but which of the many jazz Olivers is anyone’s guess. Nice key changes, mood and pace. Seasoned support from the usual suspects also from the VeeJay days, Louis Hayes and Harold Mabern, with Junior Cook’s collaborator Stafford James and a new name, Danny Moore.

Strozier the younger, as featured on those ’60s Veejays, betrayed a lot of Jackie McLean influence, acid tone and a scattering of big ponderous notes contrasted with fierce aggressive working of the mid and upper registers . By the late 70s you can still hear that influence , but now less,  Strozier is closer to the free-flowing lyrical manner of Cannonball Adderley, (and let it be said that’s not a bad thing), elegant grace notes embellish his fast melodic runs, decorating it with elegant figures and flourishes.

I appreciate many would not rank Frank Strozier in the top league of alto  players, and quite rightly, he’s no Art Pepper or Sonny Stitt,  but I can’t help but I enjoyed listening to his earlier work and was curious to hear how he shaped up in modern times, and Steeplechase is/was one of the oasis of  good vinyl recordings before the music world was taken over by Evil Silver.

This also promised to be something unusual in vintage vinyl production – direct cutting (whatever that is) Never seen one like this before, and a Limited Edition” (Rare!), not expensive, the answer had to be yes.

Vinyl: Steeplechase SCD 17001 Direct Cutting Limited Edition Frank-Strozier-What's-Gion-On-direct-cutting-limited-edition--LJC Send out for a Danish and they come back with this lot! A cast of thousands: supervisers, producers, balance engineers, assistant engineers, cutting lathe operator, graphic designers, a liner note writer.

OK, now, who’s the assistant engineer? Michael, that’s three lattes, four cappuccinos, an Americano black no sugar, two double espressos, and an Earl Grey for Mr Winthur. Thanks.

Direct Cutting, Take 1, and…action! Steeplechase-Credits-1200-LJC Frank-Strozier-What's-Gion-On-labels--LJC Gatefold: Steeplechase-Gatefold-3000-LJC Frank-Strozier-What's-Gion-On-back-1920-LJC Collectors Corner 

“Dad, Dad, what did you do in the Great Vinyl Famine?” 

“Well son, those days were hard, Twenty Fifteen to Twenty Twenty. We got by on scraps of anything we could lay our hands on. VG minus collection fillers, reissues, compilations, anything, really. You know, some people would sell their grandmother for an original Blue Note. In fact, as I recall I did sell your great grandmother for an original Blue Note. A Horace Silver, as I recall.

Those were desperate times, but pretty soon, we  ran out of extended family. Aunts and uncles didn’t fetch much, hardly get an OJC for the pair of them.”

“What happened then, Dad?”

“Collectors turned on each other. Word got round that so and so had a hoard of Prestige originals. Come nightfall his house would be surrounded by salivating vinyl collectors, haggard and sunken-eyed, pawing at his windows. Terrible things happened to satisfy their craving for vinyl”

“Sounds awful Dad. So what happened then?”

“Science saved the day. They perfected 3-D printing, son. Now everyone can have original vinyl, for next to nothing. Pass me that Mobley 1568. No, not one without the blood stains on the cover…the nice mint one…”



13 thoughts on “Frank Strozier: What’s Goin’ On (1977) Steeplechase

  1. Yes, direct cutting means there is no tape intermediate stage, the band plays right next to the record cutting equipment. That also means that the cutting has to be done without the opportunity for a prior review or processing of the material; whatever happens in real time makes the master disk. If there is a problem, it’s scrapped and the band has to perform it again. It is quite a delicate and expensive operation, with no safety net, hence the additional credits. It simply would not work if one guy was responsible for the setup and the mix and the cutting.

  2. LJC — Two Things:

    1) Stunned – never heard of or seen this one. Huge Strozier fan and didn’t even know it existed. Thanks for posting the excellent track above.

    2) Complete non-sequitur but I figured you’d be the one to ask. While I’d consider myself a pretty strong jazz fan, admittedly I don’t know much about British jazz. The one album I can truly say I know and love is the Don Rendell-Ian Carr Quintet’s “Shades of Blue.” That is a stunning album and can easily say it’s a favorite. Aside from Dizzy Reece (he counts, right?), can’t say I know too much more. Just now hearing Tubby Hayes’ “Mexican Green” and I’m loving it. My question – what are some other essential British Jazz albums you’d recommend? A few must-haves…very curious. Help!

    Thanks and as always, keep up the good work.

    • Bink, I’ll chip in. If you’re looking for British Jazz then you could try any of the following:

      Don Rendell/Ian Carr DUSK FIRE
      Joe Harriott ABSTRACT; FREE FORM
      Early John Surman titles — HOW MANY CLOUDS CAN YOU SEE, TALES OF THE ALGONQUIN etc
      John Surman/The Trio (self-titles)
      John McLaughlin EXTRAPOLATION
      Slightly later but marvellous, Howard Riley Trio ANGLE and A DAY WILL COME
      Harry Beckett FLARE UP; THEMES FOR FEGA; WARM SMILES (I think one of these is electrified but i can’t remember which)
      Amancio D’Silva INTEGRATION; DUM HONO
      Michael Garrick TROPPO; COLD MOUNTAIN etc

      Ten years or so back the UK DJ Gilles Peterson was singlehandedly reviving British mid-century jazz on his Impressed With… label — he was also largely responsible for kicking used vinyl prices for these rare as hens’ teeth records sky-high — but these reissues seem to have dried up and many are no longer available on CD. There’s an article about him and the project here:

      The titles above should get you started and if Google searches should help fill in the gaps — too numerous to mention and I’m sorry I don’t have time to be more thorough.

      I think it is also worth saying that partly as a result of that somewhat passing fad of decade or so back, and partly due to rarity value — these records sold in minute quantities — some of the titles have developed rather inflated reputations.

      Of those above I think the two Stan Traceys mentioned are indispensable, as is EXTRAPOLATION by John McLaughlin (a genuinely great British jazz guitar record), the Don Rendell DUSK FIRE is probably not quite as good as SHADES OF BLUE; DEEP DARK BLUE CENTRE is a very fine record but probably not indispensable; John Surman’s THE TRIO is a good example of British free/avant garde jazz but a little probably goes a long way; the Mike Westbrooks are big band and quite brilliant.

      I’m sure others here will be able to help out. Explore and enjoy.

        • Awesome list! Thanks for that – that’s all I was looking for. A place to start! I do know Gilles Peterson’s work and I can say I’m a fan – but I also know what you mean with his tastemaking and it’s ramifications. I think my generation (late 20s to late 30s) have put too much stock into anything made in the 70s. Some of these albums that are sought-after like gold are just not that good. A few years ago at a record store in Michigan I found a copy of Johnny Hammond’s LP “Higher Ground” without a price tag. I asked them how much, and they took a look and said – $50.00. With a straight face. And this is a place I love with fair prices. I found it a few years later for $5.00. It’s a good record but it’s not THAT good. There’s this premium placed on 70s stuff with any kind of beat and that’s due to hip-hop sample-diggers along with guys like Peterson. If it’s soul or jazz and it was released with little fanfare or on a private label – it comes with a premium. I’d come home with these records when I was younger and my pops would say – “you know, some of those records are unknown for a reason.” He’s not entirely wrong. But I digress. Thanks for the list – much appreciated! I will definitely do some investigating.

          • Glad to help, Bink. I also meant to say that the two Gilles Peterson compilations, “Impressed With…” Vols I & II, offer a pretty good starting point. I have the first one on vinyl — it was a very nicely done package when it came out, but is now deleted and seems to be climbing in value. Both are easy to find on CD secondhand, however. They are good samplers.

            Oh — and I solved a mystery. I couldn’t understand how some of the titles I knew existed just ten years back — Don Rendell, Michael Garrick etc — had been deleted so quickly and disappeared. They’ve changed hands and some are now available as two and in some cases even three LPs on a CD from BGO Records:

  3. I’m no expert, but I believe ‘direct cutting’ refers to recording direct to master disc rather than to multitrack tape as the musicians play ‘live’. Wasn’t there a small group of labels doing this in the 70s and 80s as a special audiophile editions? I seem to recall a number of classical labels also did this. Although the technique claimed to produce better sound I think the main emphasis was on the spontaneous live experience because cutting direct to master meant no dubs or retakes.

    Anyway, whatever extra money may have been spent on the recording technique for this Strozier, they saved it by spending nothing whatsoever on the sleeve. 🙂

  4. My copy too is a usual Steeplechase. I bought it on a sale 30+ years ago.
    I Guess that a Limited Edition Sheffield was issued later for some reason.
    I dont understand why. Although great Music, this one never headed for the great masses.
    Rather to nerds like us Reading this !

  5. This one has been gathering dust on my shelves for 30 years.
    Thanks for Your reminder, first one on my playlist tomorrow ,
    Also – Your writings are highly interesting – keep up With Your exellent work –

  6. What’s Goin’ On with that cover? Its nice, but not at all in the same vein as the SteepleChase LPs I’m familiar with. A label with generally great sound. I haven’t seen the “Direct Cutting” production claim, but it seems to imply a direct-to-disk process a la Sheffield Labs.

  7. I picked this up last weekend and what a gem!
    Frank Strozier Sextet ‎– Remember Me
    Bought it solely due to your prior Frank Strozier review. I’m on the hunt now!

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