An uncommercial island, Stanley Cowell and Charles Tolliver’s Strata East Records, stubbornly surrounded by increasingly commercial waters, making music to satisfy its core listening audience rather college boys and the bachelor demographic, who had moved on elsewhere.
Venturing further into the 1970’s, soul jazz and electric jazz rock fusion were not the only shows in town. Lurking in the shadows, spiritual jazz was defining an alternative direction, from the church of Strata East. Rough-hewn melodies, harmonies and dissonances in equal measure, a groove somewhere but not necessarily to the fore, instrumental virtuosity but the ensemble more important than the individual. A ’70s attitude combined with respect for the previous decade and its roots, it makes for unpredictable and interesting listening.
Another first for LJC.
Selection: Sound Of Silents
Sonny Fortune, alto saxophone, soprano saxophone, flute; Charles Sullivan, trumpet; Stanley Cowell, piano, electric piano; Wayne Dockery, bass; Chip Lyle, drums; Mario Muñoz, bass drum, timbales; Angel Allende, congas, triangle, tambourine; Richie Pablo Landrum, percussion; recorded September 8 & 15, 1974 at Minot Studio, White Plains, N.Y. Engineers John Battilori and Ron Carran; cover, Carole Byard.
Three percussionists join drummer Chip Lyle for the 14 minute overly-long afro-centric percussion title track, shades of Solomon Ilori meets Art Blakey’s Afro-drum ensemble. That aside, the four remaining tracks cover all bases: ballad, post-bop modal, new thing, free jazz, funk, cinematic and spiritual. All complete with tricksy song titles.
Stanley Cowell’s piano is described repeatedly in reviews as “bracing”, whatever that means. Angular, forceful figures and chords, Cowell switches between acoustic and electric piano, and each sounds equally at home here.
Sonny Fortune favours only the upper range saxophone – alto and soprano. He is full of good musical ideas, whether rapid-fire elongated runs, picking out the melody, or shifting harmonies against Charles Sullivan’s bright solid trumpet, and his voice is not obviously anyone elses.
Whether this was the best introduction to Strata East only time will tell, but it is a promising introduction, intriguing, which will have more to follow.
Vinyl: SES 7423
Early 70’s vinyl is not always great, and a small element of recycled vinyl being added is not unusual. Not in any way problematic, no where near some of the Prestige/New Jazz horrors. The engineering here is punchy in the mid-band and the upper register is well retained. Bass is dry and musical, as it should be, though I cant work out whether its a pickup on acoustic bass or electric, probably the former.
Minot Sound Studios, which opened the year before in 1973, boasted 8-track recording, but the stereo here is fairly centre-weighted, could almost be mono looking at the left and right histograms in Audacity, and a solid central image, which works well with this style of music.
1970’s, Real Men Wear Flares.
I had flares then, of course. And a large droopy moustache. But I wasn’t listening to Strata East, probably almost no-one was. I was listening to Mahavishnu Orchestra, Weather Report, Larry Coryell, Santana, Chick Corea, what happens when you just go with the flow, what’s currently on offer. What I learned over the decades that followed is to cast aside “the latest offer”. You have to find your own way. That is liberating, really exciting. Now where did I hang those flares?