Charles Tolliver Music Inc.+Orch: Impact (1975) Strata East

Selection: Mother Wit

.  .  .

Tracklist

A1. Impact        7:58
A2. Mother Wit  8:21
A3. Grand Max  6:22
B1. Plight           9:47
B2. Lynnsome   7:18
B3. Mournin’ Variations  8:13

Artists

Note: this is not Tolliver’s small-group “Impact” from 1972, but the very large ensemble Music Inc & Orchestra “Impact” from 1975.  

Personnel

Charles Tolliver, trumpet, flugelhorn; Stanley Cowell, piano; Cecil McBee, Clint Houston, Reggie Workman, bass; Clifford Barbaro, drums; Warren Smith, chimes, percussion; Billy Parker, percussion; Big Black, congas;

Reeds

Charles McPherson, alto saxophone; James Spaulding, flute, alto saxophone; George Coleman, tenor saxophone; Harold Vick, flute, soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone; Charles Davis, baritone saxophone; Jon Faddis, Lorenzo Greenwich, Virgil Jones, Jimmy Owens, Richard Williams, trumpet; Garnett Brown, John Gordon, Kiane Zawadi, trombone; Jack Jeffers, bass trombone;

Strings

Winston Collymore, Noel Da Costa, Gayle Dixon, Noel Pointer, violin; Julius Miller, Ashley Richardson, viola; Akua Dixon Turre, Edith Wint Porter, cello;

Music

Tolliver must have rounded up every musician available in New York on this date, it is two three four or five of everything. It reminds me of the saying attributed to Stalin, “Quantity has a Quality all of its own”. And Quantity is what you get. Cinematic in scale, restless in pace, Tolliver’s compositions weave together bursts of raw power and repeating crescendos, which give way to a modal canvas for the soloists, queued up for take off after the boss has had his say. Each track operates in largely the same mode but alternating the players, and some tracks have more strings than others.

Impact is big-band in that it has a lot of players: 14 horns, 8 strings, and a rhythm section. It is not big-band in the sense of the big band genre – it is not especially melodic, rhythmic or swinging big band, it is. . .something else. The total decibel-output of all those instruments probably sounds a bit tame through a hi-fi, and you probably wouldn’t want all these musicians in the room with you,  even if you could fit them in.

Strings! Generally, I don’t like them (British understatement).  Veering towards Hollywood Cinematic, you eventually accept them as just another of the varying textures with which Tolliver assembles his composition. They appear and disappear quite quickly. 

Tolliver was clearly drawn to arranging for a large ensemble, and returned to it whenever the opportunity arose, especially in his later years. Lead instrumentalists generally like to play in a small ensemble, the dynamics of quartet or quintet, and not drowned out by fourteen other horn players. The idea of a Lee Morgan Big Band or Freddie Hubbard Big Band, doesn’t make any sense, it’s a different kind of music. But that is what motivated Tolliver, his own singular vision, being surrounded by instrumental power, with him as composer and arranger.

I can just about take big band, but only in small doses. 

Vinyl: SES 19757

Harry’s Place

Harry’s been busy doing The Time Warp again… It’s just a jump to the left
And then a step to the right …1970 through to 1975.

Stanley Cowell at Montreux 1971

Charles Tolliver – Montreux 1971Clint Houston –  Montreux1971George Coleman -JazzExpo1970Harold Vick – Montreux 1975

Photo credits:  © Harry M

Collector’s Corner

The Strata East label stands apart from others in the early 70s: more adventurous, uncompromising, charting its own course. Stylistically the label covered many bases:  deep modal outings, post-bop, experimental free jazz and African/spiritual excursions. It was home for Tolliver’s own recordings but also a galaxy of other exciting players, including Clifford Jordan, Pharoah Sanders, The Heath Brothers, Charlie Rouse, Max Roach, and many lesser known artists too. 

By the early 1980s, Strata-East had all but ceased issuing new titles. I chanced on one of the last titles in a local store, the 1980 release “Compassion” by Charles Tolliver. Vinyl weight by then had fallen to around 120 grams, approaching wobble-board thinness, the familiar black and cream label had turned blue. The corporate text now included reference to distribution by  Audiofidelity Enterprises, Inc. New York, a commercial relationship  which adds nothing to the musical provenance.A spin on the store turntable revealed the heavy presence of Nathan Page, an old school jazz guitarist who served time with Jimmy Smith, and here over-exposed long guitar solos over bass and drums. And yet another version of “Impact”, this time for quartet. One record which breaks my “see it, buy it” rule, it returned to the rack.

Discogs turns up a repressing from Strata East, on the late blue label

 

(I read somewhere online Tolliver passed away just a year ago, in June 2021, however this is not substantiated on his Wiki and may be incorrect, deleted

Strata East Records business has for some years been confined to licensing recordings from its back catalogue, for reissue by other labels, mainly in US, Europe, Japan and the UK. Pure Pleasure have added Impact to their large roster of Strata East titles. On-line record stores repeat the same paragraph, copy and paste from All Music: 

 Charles Tolliver often straddled the line between the lyricism of hard bop and the adventurous nature of the avant-garde….

The Pure Pleasure edition is “remastered by Ray Staff at Air Mastering, Lyndhurst Hall, London ”  Remastered by X is fine, but remastered from .  . what?  It’s the Magician’s Assistant distraction routine: watch his hands, not her. No source mentioned, except their generic “from the best available sources”, which neatly avoids identifying the source.

The Hoffmen on Strata East/ Pure Pleasure are . . .strangely incurious as to sources. One of the Hoffmen thinks Glass Bead Games is a needle-drop, another is sure it’s not. What do they think the source is? Do they understand the production-line process of these reissues, mainly by the Czech  giant GZ Media, the world’s largest vinyl record manufacturer.  

Eavesdrop on the Hoffmen:

“Just dipped into this series and spun Glass Bead Games, Rhythm X, and Musa. I’m very satisfied with these reissues, but I don’t really have anything to compare them to. 

 

I have just 2 Strata East originals of which I don’t have any reissues, besides that these were recorded in different studios so unfortunately I cant really judge on the sound of Pure Pleasure reissues in comparison to their original pressings.

 

I noticed that the sound of “Glass Bead Games” on the Pure Pleasure release is outstanding – especially when it comes to reissues. Haven’t really done a comparison with my other Strata East/Pure Pleasure but though they all sound very good 

 

Unfortunately to me “Glass Bead Games” sounds like its a needle-drop, there are some really odd vinyl playback-like distortions on there that can’t be on the tape. This is the only pressing of this album I have.

 

No distortions on my pressing. Can’t imagine its a needle-drop and doesn’t sound like one.

 

My PP copy of Glass Bead Games sounds fantastic. I don’t hear anything that leads me to believe it’s a needle-drop, and I have a very revealing system. 

 

I have every PP Strata East reissue but no originals with which to compare. Too many records here and don’t have time to compare anyways.”

(Fair’s fair, if the Hoffmen want to start a thread on LJC, I can hardly complain!)

LJC Soapbox. This is how it works. You can just settle for what you hear, sample of one.  With remasters and reissues, there is often a loss of information or other artefacts, but you won’t know that with a sample of one.  If you do compare with an original, you will become aware of what is missing: high frequency information,  air, space, clarity, and boosted or uncontrolled bass, effects from a digital file.

The Strata East original recording tapes were property of the original artists, however Strata East took possession of that tape in order to manufacture the release, and a copy must have been available to manufacture the CD releases in the ’90s. So at least copy tape was in possession of Strata East. In the 20 years that followed, streaming services generated digital download editions of varying quality. If you were Pure Pleasure, what source would you have? 

Still, after doing lots and lots of A:B comparisons, and listening to hi fi buddies systems, listening is calibrated with lots of reference points, including the troublesome business of bass and treble extension, and presence. You begin to be able to recognise what “sounds great” actually sounds like.

Some digital transfers onto vinyl can sound quite passable – as long as you have no original on hand for comparison. Not all original tape recordings sound great. Revealing hi-fi doesn’t make everything sound great. but there is  always the potential to make a really good recording sound even better, even Big Band. And that is the good news.

Horizon Scanning

The “180gm Audiophile” industry must be getting twitchy, as more producers are explicitly declaring sources, remastered from the original tapes, this one even quoting tape speed, 15 inches per second. Not just by whom, but from exactly what. The Wallen Bink Kleinschuster set does actually sound “great” and, ironically, includes a side with.  .  . Charles Tolliver.

Trombonist Kleinschuster (“Little Shoemaker”) takes us into the late 60s jazz scene of Vienna, his sextet recording with a glittering roster of visiting American jazz men, including another Strata East star, Clifford Jordan, and Blue Note heavyweight Joe Henderson.  Subject of a future review, highly recommended three double LP set, (available as double singly).

10 thoughts on “Charles Tolliver Music Inc.+Orch: Impact (1975) Strata East

  1. Hi ,

    Just read your Charles Tolliver blog. I really enjoyed it and thanks for posting it.

    Just wanted to enquire where you heard that he had died as I’m a big fan of his and didn’t know about it. I’ve had a look on the internet and can’t find any info on it.

    This is an interview that was recorded one year ago and he’s looking and sounding pretty healthy.

    Anyway, thanks for the vlogs. I really enjoy them.

    Richard

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    • Hi, I have no recollection of the specific source, merely that I came across it in the course of various searches about Tolliver and noted the date, clearly wrong. I should have double-checked with his Wiki, still open, that is usually the definitive source.

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  2. “Compassion” was recorded and released three years earlier on the Japanese Baystate label as “New Tolliver”—a far better pressing

    I generally do not care for jazz guitar at all, but I find a fair amount to like on this record, probably because of the strength of Tolliver’s compositions

    Like

  3. And a second bite of the cherry having read a bit further down to the bit about those Pure Pleasure reissues. I have mixed emotions about this – I like the people who rung Pure Pleasure and I know that they have a cordial working relationship with Charles Tolliver (we were all in the same room pre-Covid when Tolliver’s quintet played London in Nov 2019). However, they haven’t exactly been transparent about whether or not they had access to the original master tapes. But at least they’re making this music available again!

    Strata-East is something of a special case when it comes to the master tapes because of the way Cowell/Tolliver set up the ownership of rights to be balanced in favour of the artists rather than the label. The outcome is that the company doesn’t own all the master tapes (the artists do) so they may not have even been available for Pure Pleasure to use. I don’t own any Pure Pleasure pressings so my comparison problem is the other way round – I have plenty of Strata-East originals but can’t be certain if they sounds better than the re-issues!

    Actually, that’s not quite true because I do have one re-issue – a version of Glass Bead Games done by French label Heavenly Sweetness. Actually, it doesn’t sound too bad and I reviewed it favourably for the late lamented Long Live Vinyl magazine even though I suspect they didn’t use the master tapes. I have a lovely original pressing of Glass Bead Games and that’s still the best option (assuming you can find one in decent shape and at a reasonable price).

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  4. Er… “Tolliver passed away just a year ago, in June 2021.”… Umm, don’t think Andy. I knew he had to take some time out for dental work but I don’t think the ailment was that serious. AFAIK he’s still very much in the land of the living!

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  5. The value of comparison is unquestionable, but there is something to be said for feeling like something is ‘good enough’ also, in my opinion. Mingus probably could have found a ‘better’ bass. I bet the mixing on “Kind of Blue” could be slightly better. But they are good enough. I would not waste my time doing A:B in either of those cases, for example.

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