Strata East was the quintessential US independent 70s jazz label
“Strata-East Records is an American record company and label specializing in jazz founded in 1971 by Charles Tolliver and Stanley Cowell with the release of their first recording Music Inc. The label released over 50 albums in the 1970s. Many of the label’s releases are now hailed as prime examples of 1970s post-bop, spiritual and afro-jazz”
The origin of the Strata East name is reference to the Detroit, MI. music organisation Strata Records. Dubbed “The Sound of Detroit”, Strata was formed in 1969 by jazz pianist Kenny Cox, who had previously released two albums for Blue Note under Liberty. Strata established its own recording studios and a Concert Gallery and an ultimately short-lived record label, with less than a dozen titles in its catalogue before its demise in 1975. Cowell and Tolliver were inspired by the Strata artists independent label concept to establish a similarly independent “musician-controlled” label for the East Coast, hence the name “Strata-East“. The Strata-East logo, by designer Ted Plair, drew parallels with Strata, but the label’s cover art developed further elements of graphical design, Africa-leaning, spiritual-mystic, retro-futurist imagery from ancient Egypt:
An important difference in practice compared with other labels was artist control. The artist-producers independently chose and paid for a recording studio and engineer for the session, brought Strata East a finished tape ready for manufacture, and paid for the initial cost of fabrication. Strata East Inc.’s contribution was promotion, manufacture and distribution, with a significantly higher financial return on sales promised to the artists compared to other labels.
The musical spread of the catalogue reflects the eclectic range of its artists. Massively big band through to solo piano outings, R&B, soulful funk, avant-garde, experimental jazz, multi-piano choirs, spiritual jazz, hard bop, hard groove, some fiery and free.
Probably the nearest thing to a record hit for Strata East was Gill Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson’s Winter In America, with its dance-floor friendly much remixed and extended, The Bottle. The album debuted at number six in Billboard ‘s 1974 Top Jazz Album chart and ultimately sold over 300,000 copies in the US. In line with their artist-centric philosophy, the proceeds of that success I guess went to Scott-Heron and Jackson, not Strata East.
Strata East Label Variations
Test Pressing (1973)Cecil Payne Zodiac, SES 19734 – pressed March 9, 1973
2. White label
Initially no R registered trademark on logo, no year of © copyright; zip code N.Y.C.10014; Registration mark added to white label logo on later titles.
3. Black and white label
R registration mark, © year of copyright, ST331/3 symbol, zip code N.Y.C 10010. The label’s busiest year was 1974, during which around two dozen new titles were released. The last title to be released on this label was just one in 1978, SES19780
4. One-off quirky label for SES 1974-2 Mtume: Alkebu-Lan
“ALKEBU-LAN is an ancient name for the African continent, representing the African land, people and culture – the basis of its historical greatness”. Printed in U.S.A.
5. Light blue label (1980)
Final handful of releases in 1980, light blue label with two centre crossbars, zip code 10019.Very thin vinyl.Strata East Label Addresses
Over its active decade, Strata East operated out of three addresses – NY zip code cognoscenti: seemingly going up in the world? For NY-natives to comment, it’s not my manor, but I did at one time smoke Stuyvesant.
10014: Meatpacking District|Downtown|Manhattan (1971-3)
10010: Stuyvesant Park|Manhattan (1974-8)
10019: Upper West Side|West Side|Uptown|Manhattan (1980)
Titles were repressed periodically, in some cases this snagged the 1973 label change. Example, the first title Music Inc (1971). The white label is first, lacks the R registered trademark, the © year is absent. The black and white design is the second, repressed in 1974.
SES 1971 Music Inc. – note the absence of the registered mark on the white label.
With artists and producers organising their own recordings, a variety of jobbing engineers and studios working around New York are credited on Strata East titles, though none recorded at Englewood Cliffs. It was not unusual for a session to be recorded at one studio, remixed at another, and the lacquer cut at a third.
Minot Sound, White Plains NYC, run by George Carran, appears quite frequently, and Town Sound, Englewood. Other engineers include Orville O’Brien, Les Paul Jr. and George Klabin (Sound Ideas Studio) and many others; with mastering/lacquer cutting at Generation Sound Studios by Dave Crawford.
Generally they sound pretty good, despite the warning flag “too many cooks”.
Typically around 150gm bare vinyl weight, easily enough to provide a good fill and avoid underweight vinyl issues. Clean vinyl pressings, no sign of added recycled vinyl on any of my copies. Solid performers if well cared for by previous owners.
More than can be said for the covers, prone to show ring-wear through solid dark colors. (left and right below, double LP gatefold wear front and back) Unlaminated paper has not aged well.
Artwork/Design can be remarkable on some titles, though not consistently. Scarcity means remaindered copies with cut corners appear more often than one would wish, likewise, an abundance of sellotaped edges. Top auction prices go to sealed copies in shrink which have protected the fragile artwork from the ravages of time.
Strata East runout groove area is short of information as regards pressing plant or mastering engineer, usually a simply a hand-etched catalogue number, side and mix number.
The catalogue number format consists basically of the year of issue and a sequential count of titles issued that year, for example: SES 19749, Irvine Weldon, the 9th title issued in 1974. The number format looks promising, but …
in some years, the year format drops the first two numbers, YYYY becomes YY, for example, 7417, 17th title issued in 1974. In some years the issue number is two digits, in others just one (no leading zero) so the numbers are of different length after 9. Double LPs span two sequence numbers with a slash “19737/8” The 1st title in year is #blank or #0. Some titles insert a hyphen separator between year and issue number, others not.
These inconsistencies mean you cannot use the assigned catalogue number to sort Strata East titles in numerical or chronological order by computer, without resorting to major reformatting manipulation. Learn to code, guys!
SES Complete Label Series (57 titles)
The SES Series commenced in 1971 with a white label, superseded during 1973 by the more familiar black and white label, but with three anomalies which were pressed later than their catalogue number suggests. Their catalogue numbers are 1972 but they bear a copyright date of ©1973, when the black and white label was introduced.
Re-pressings after 1973 are with the black and white label, so some of the early releases are found with both designs. The registered trademark is absent on the first two titles, then appears and remains on all further titles.
A total of 57 titles are shown. There are occasional gaps in sequence, where a catalogue number was allocated but the title was not issued. – these gaps are not shown. The labels are randomly either Side A or B, according to availability and photo quality online. (Many sellers continue to picture the whole of the vinyl, instead of a close up of the label, duh!)
Click sets to view full screen.
Strata East SES Catalog Listing Reference
Number Artist Title (highlighted links to LJC reviews)
SES 1971 Charles Tolliver Music Inc.
SES 1972 Charles Tolliver Live at Slugs’ Volume I
SES 1972-0 Charles Tolliver Live at Slugs’ Volume II
SES 1972-1 Clifford Jordan In the World
SES 1972-2 Jazz Contemporaries Reasons in Tonality
SES 1972-3 Composer’s Workshop Ensemble
SES 1972-4 Mtume Umoja Ensemble Alkebu-Lan: Land of the Blacks
SES 19730 The Piano Choir Handscapes
SES 19731 Brother Ah Sound Awareness
SES 19732 M’Boom Re: Percussion
SES 19733 Pharoah Sanders Izipho Zam (My Gifts)
SES 19734 Cecil Payne Zodiac
SES 19735 Juju A Message from Mozambique
SES 19736 Charles Brackeen Rhythm X
SES 19737/8 Clifford Jordan Glass Bead Games
SES 19739 Billy Harper Capra Black
SES-19740/1 Charles Tolliver Live at the Loosdrecht Jazz Festival
SES 19742 Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson Winter in America
SES 19743 Stanley Cowell Musa: Ancestral Streams
SES 19744 The Descendants of Mike and Phoebe A Spirit Speaks
SES 19745 Charles Tolliver Live in Tokyo
SES-19746 Charlie Rouse Two Is One
SES 19747 Dick Griffin The Eighth Wonder
SES 19748 The John Betsch Society Earth Blossom
SES 19749 Weldon Irvine In Harmony
SES 7410 The Cosmic Twins The Waterbearers
SES 7411 Muriel Winston A Fresh Viewpoint
SES 7412 Shamek Farrah First Impressions
SES 7413 Charles Sullivan Genesis
SES 7416 Keno Duke/Contemporaries Sense of Values
SES 7417 Cecil McBee Mutima
SES 7418 The Ensemble Al-Salaam The Sojourner
SES 7420 Juju Chapter Two: Nia
SES 7421 Jayne Cortez Celebrations and Solitudes
SES 7422 Composer’s Workshop Ensemble We’ve Been Around
SES 7423 Sonny Fortune Long Before Our Mothers Cried
SES 7425 Charles Davis Ingia!
SES 7430 Shirley Scott One for Me
SES 7431 Harold Vick Don’t Look Back
SES 19750 The Piano Choir Handscapes 2
SES 19752 The Brass Company Colors
SES 19754 Billy Parker’s Fourth World Freedom of Speech
SES 19757 Charles Tolliver Impact
SES 19758 Milton Marsh Monism
SES 19759 Larry Ridley Sum of the Parts
SES 19760 John Gordon Step By Step
SES 19761 George Russell Electronic Sonata for Souls Loved by Nature
SES 19765 Stanley Cowell Regeneration
SES 19766 The Heath Brothers Marchin’ On
SES 7610 The Warm Voice of Billy C Where Have You Been, Billy Boy?
SES 19771 Shamek Farrah and Sonelius Smith The World of the Children
SES 19772 Johnson and Jones The Liberation of the Contemporary Jazz Guitar
SES 19780 John Gordon Erotica Suite
SES 8001 Charles Tolliver Compassion
SES 8002 John Hicks Hells Bells
SES 8003 The New York Bass Violin Choir The New York Bass Violin Choir
Pen-portraits of other leading Strata-East titles at theBarcelona Jazz Messengers blog.
Variously, cover stamp, label stamp, and printed white label DJ Copy for radio station promos.
45rpm Singles/ Juke Box/ Promos
International Distribution 1970s
Parallel to the original US release, many Strata East titles were released “simultaneously” – the same or following year – by Trio Records in Japan, in the UK by Polydor Records (some inexplicably with alternative cover), and in France on the Black and Blue label, a jazz and blues label founded in 1968.
SES 1971 Music Inc. early 70s overseas issues(US, Japan, UK)French 70’s overseas issue (selective titles)
Clifford Jordan: In The World: – early 70s overseas issues – UK alt cover.
Industry standard practice at this time was local remastering from copy tape, with the inevitable loss of fidelity compared with the original US issue. Trio nevertheless has a good reputation in audio quality, Polydor less so. As for Polydor “artwork” …
Auction Prices – The Most Valuable Strata East Originals
The most valuable title by far is SES 19732, M’Boom Re-Percussion, which peaks at just short of $2,000 and occupies a lot of the top auction slots. It features a 33-minute percussion extravaganza, in which the intrusive surface noise clicks and pops of the YouTube uploader’s copy makes interesting counter-rhythm to the percussion ensemble, to my ears, musical torture, each to their own, just not mine.
Other titles nestling around the $1,000 mark include the first Shamek Farrah title, First Impressions, and our friends Descendants of Mike and Phoebe (A.Grace Lee Mims, Bill Lee, Billy Higgins, Cliff Lee, Consuela Lee Moorehead, Sonny Brown) A Spirit Speaks, which fields an excellent delivery of the Bill Lee composition John Coltrane. A longer version of that composition is also found on Clifford Jordan’s essential Glass Bead Games, considered by some to be the crown jewels of the Strata East Catalogue.
SES 1972-4 Alkebu-Lan Live at The East (bottom centre,) has me sold just on the strength of that cover, never mind the music.
“WELDON IRVINE~IN HARMONY~INSANELY RARE SEALED ORIG” Bob Djukic clipped just over $900 for Weldon, and a couple of others around $500-$750. Good condition lesser titles settle around the $250 to $350 mark. Original Strata East is pricey but not out of this world for collectable rare vinyl.
SECD Series – The Evil Silver Disk.
Many Strata East titles released on CD in the 90’s by the independent German label Bellaphon, and Charly Schallplatten GmbH, and many in Japan.
Jazz-oriented DJs have found a rich seam of material in the catalogue of both Strata East and Strata, for both spinning and sampling. 2015 saw a live Strata East concert with many of the original artists on stage at London’s Barbican Centre, introduced by Giles Peterson and broadcast on BBC Radio 3. A US concert celebration 50th anniversary of the label was streamed from Birdland.
Strata East Modern Vinyl Reissues
Eavesdrop on the Hoffmen Lounge: “Why would I pay a billion quid for the Mona Lisa when I can get a poster of it for under a fiver? Looks just the same on the wall to me, though I’ve never actually seen the original”
In recent years many Strata East titles have been reissued under license by several vinyl reissue specialists, including Pure Pleasure (UK), Everland (NL), Superfly, Bomba and P-Vine Records (JP)
Digital files are now the only likely source, with Pure Pleasure pressing by the German giant Pallas, others at Czech giant GZ Media. Claiming “audiophile remastering”, none claim to be remastered from the original tapes.
Copy tape must have been available to enable Bellaphon and Charly remaster for CD in the early 90s, but derived digital files today can be written easily to vinyl for distribution to international markets, geared to low-cost mass production, with a respectable margin for independent distributors. In the absence of an accepted definition, anything can be callled “audiophile”. And as the Hoffmen™ like to say, it sounds great, even if us audiophiliacs differ. To me they sound lifeless and wooden, but decide for yourself.
The original tapes were owned legally by the artists, and some reissues claimed to be authorized by the artist’s estate. The actual custody of individual original tapes is unknown, and probably at this stage, a lost cause. The search for original vinyl will continue.
Collector’s Corner Update 28/8/22 The Vinyl Press Pure Pleasure vs Original SE
Clifford Jordan- Glass Bead Games Shoot-Out
(Because links very often go dead over time, I copy in the salient highlights of the article here, read in full the link above)
“I’ve been asked by Fearless Leader to do a “shoot out” comparison between an original Strata-East pressing of Clifford Jordan Quartet “Glass Bead Games” (SES 19737/8) and the recent reissue from Pure Pleasure Records out of the UK.
As a reissue label, Pure Pleasure does good solid work. However, something seems to have changed over the years. It is not clear what source material they are relying on for these releases. In fact the label seems to go out of the way to cloud the issue.
Initially I listened to the Pure Pleasure pressing. It was dead quiet so I was able to focus on the recording. There is reasonable bass extension from Bill Lee’s upright. It didn’t shake my plums but I knew there was something down there. I found the highs to be a touch rolled off and recording somewhat closed in but overall, it wasn’t a bad listening experience. It didn’t stand out but I enjoyed what I heard. I had my doubts the original would be an improvement.
My original pressing is surprisingly quiet. Strata-East pressings were run of the mill. Getting a noisy one wasn’t unusual. I got lucky.
The difference between the two pressings becomes immediately apparent. The original has what my audiophile/musician friend Jeff Carney calls “the breath of life”. There is more air around the instruments. Clifford Jordan’s sax cuts through the mix like nobody’s business. Bill Lee and Sam Jones’ upright have more foundation. It digs deeper and seems to be continuous throughout the album whereas I found the bass to be spotlighted just a bit in the reissue.
A few days later I had a long-time audiophile friend over as I wanted a second set of ears. Did I get it wrong? Is the $50 version better or as good as the (now) $500 original?
My friend was completely unfamiliar with the album. We went in reverse this time, leading off with the original pressing. I started with the lead off track on side two – the iconic “John Coltrane.” For me this is the pinnacle track on the album. Lee’s bass line sucks you in. Clifford Jordan’s sax work cuts through the mix with laser-like precision. By the time the vocal chanting comes around over the bassline I’m a quivering pile of mush. That’s the knockout punch. We worked our way through the album hearing more of everything the Pure Pleasure pressing hinted at.
Next up was the Pure Pleasure. We went right to “John Coltrane”. In comparison to the original it was uninvolving from the get-go. We carried on throughout the side; then my friend said it was obvious the reissue was inferior to the original pressing and there was no point to continue on. I agreed. We knew the answer.”
This shoot-out mirrors my own experience with PP and almost all anonymously sourced modern “audiophile” reissues. The Breath of Life is sucked out by . commercially expedient digital sourcing.
Another fantastic resource… thank you. I’m currently looking at (photos of) a copy of SES 1972-4 Mtume Umoja Ensemble Alkebu-Lan: Land of the Blacks. Everything seems correct (runouts, etc) except the labels appear a bit glossy and there are two (2) pressing rings instead of one (the first about an inch in diameter). Any thoughts about what I’m looking at?
Hi Mark The cues are visual rather than written . Pressing rings sound wrong, do you have a picture to share?. Any info on vinyl weight? OG should be 140-160gm Is the jacket laminated on the front?
Any knock-offs of Strata East tend to me modern, not vintage, plastic phoot-repro cover, Seen around on market stalls with other digital copies, easy target for RINOs. (Record in name only)
Cant tell anything without a better look.
I would expect an original to be very expensive – $300-500.
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first edition Strata East in Japan on Tokuma Musical Industries with a Brown, Red and Green label – Green/Red Obis – only 15 or so titles.
Thank you for a much needed deep dive into Strata East. I am happy you tackled the thorny issue of what is or isn’t an original label. If I am reading you correctly, the first few titles from before sometime in 1973 should be all white, but your photos of Live @ Slug’s 1 & 2 and Warren Smith are black and white. I checked my copies and they are black and white as well and I have all white copies of a few that you show (but none that you don’t). Do you think that the lack of any photos online of an all white label for these early titles means anything other than they are extremely rare? Could it be that the label design was fluid early and we can’t know if these early titles ever did have all white labels (until we see one that is). Or perhaps while they supposedly date the releases through their numbers, this isn’t how they were actually released chronologically.
The first two Strata East releases 1971 and 19721 are white label no reg. mark. Tolliver had not yet completed trade mark registration. The next three – 19722, 19724(the odd Mtume) and 19731 are white label with reg mark.
The first continuous run of the black and white label started with 19732 with reg. mark ©1973
The Live at Slugs volumes were definitely released out of chronological sequence. Though allocated catalogue numbers 1972 (Vol.1) and 19720 (Vol.2) both bear ©1973, which puts them in the tenure of the black and white label. Similarly, 19723 , on a black and white label, was manufactured out of chronological catalogue number sequence.
If only we knew when a centre-label was printed, we would know it all.
Just yesterday I ordered the Strata East ‘New York Bass Violin Choir’.. Seven highly respected bass players of the east coast jazz scene playing togheter. Yes Spike’s father is on board. Everything melts. Time, music, street cred, taking risks, fight for your right (apart from that also to party).
Until yesterday I thought that the 12 cello players of the Berlin Philharmonic playing Arvo Pärt’s ‘Fratres’ were the first to do such a thing (ECM in 1984). But Pärt wasn’t first.
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“a significantly higher financial return on sales promised to the artists compared to other labels”
Nice use of “promised”,
I read that sceptical tone in the music press of the day. Music journalists have always been sceptical of “the man” ripping off artists, cynicism is ingrained. I have no way of knowing what actually happened. It is quoted in interviews as Tolliver’s intention, which is how I report it. If you can add something by way of more information, the floor is yours.
No criticism of your tone. Given the reported fallout (e.g. Clifford Jordan v Tolliver) I think your tone was perfectly justified.
I’m away on holiday at present but just a holding pattern comment to say I’ve been compiling a lot of Strata East information over the last few years and I suspect I can add a lot more detail to extend this post if you’re interested Andy
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Martin I am aware of your special interest in the label, I would be delighted to expand it into the authoritative source on this label, I have just a starter When you have packed away the holiday Ambre Solaire and picnic basket, please come back with corrections and expansions, I will happily push it up a level. The label deserves more.
Bill Lee is Spike’s father I think.
“No sign of recycled vinyl”??? (how do you tell?) I don’t know about today but at Plastylite (Blue Note) the edge flashings were ALWAYS recycled and added into the mix.
Hi Larry, like the avatar!
By recycled I mean the raw vinylite bulked up with recycled old vinyl records including paper fibres from centre labels. Paper is what contaminates the noise floor. I imagine edge-flashings don’t contain paper fibres, right? This is what Prestige did in the early 60s. You can see the fibres. That vinyl should be flat glass-like reflection. The fibres cause an audible hiss all the way through play, including during the “silent” separator between tracks.
Never saw this in any Plastylite pressings or even most labels, and none in Strata East. It spoils many early 60s New Jazz, and some Prestige around 1964. I’ve had it a few times with late 60s Atlantic. Its probably a rogue practice with supply of vinylite at “low cost” at some plants. Maybe they didn’t hear it on primitive equipment of those days but it sure as hell stands out on high-end audio.
Some “New Jazz “ material was reissued on Original Jazz Classics series .It sounds good to me and bucks the general trend that many reissues are not up to the originals. Obviously the repressing comprises “ unadulterated” vinyl
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Thank you for your input, Pendulum, always welcome.
I have seven OJCs, some if not all remastered for Fantasy by George Horn, an old hand in the studio like the industry trusty Bernie Grundman. Certainly OJC circumvent the lottery of original New Jazz vinyl adulteration, which was historically unforgivable. Not all sessions were recorded equally well, faults sometimes lie with the originals. Tommy Flanagan’s The Cats OJC sounds weak, and I can’t pin down exactly why. Chet Baker in Milan OJC however “sounds great™”
My beef with OJC in general is vinyl weight. My seven titles have an average vinyl weight of 106gm, one as little as 98gm around half the “audiophile standard” 180gm . The shallow groove depth required to cut vinyl that thin means the slightest disturbance of the surface escalates surface noise. A barely feelable needle skate, which with music deep in the groove wall would make no impression on a solid 160-180gm record, becomes an intrusive click. The 98gm title is bedevilled with noise, barely listenable. You may be luckier in your choice of titles.
As always, vinyl at its best remains the format of choice, but it is not without its own issues.
Excellent and scholarly post ,as usual.
Charlie Rouse – Two is One is the only original title I have. It’s an odd place to find Rouse ,after all that time with Monk, but it’s a great record and as usual ,he plays brilliantly, but in a new context. I should think it sounds amazing put through a high end system and played very loud in a club.The recorded sound is really good .
I always wanted to get The Glass Beads Game ,but never got around to it.Now it looks like the money will be going on the gas bill!
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Some things are more important than keeping warm, you can always put on an extra layer. I shall just cut back on inessentials, like food. and water.
I have a few OJC reissues by Monk, Dolphy ,Rollins ,Coltrane, Henry etc. Agreed ,they are much lighter weight than 50 s or early 60 s vinyl , but apart from really major classics eg Monks Music ,I’m not sure if many of these OJC records have been reissued on audiophile type thick vinyl – I will probably stand corrected on that!
Mal Waldron – The Quest is the only reissue of a New Jazz title I have . It sounds great and corrects any manufacturing fault. Just imagine paying a heavy price for a mint first press of this , only to find it sounds awful due to adulterated vinyl!
LJC – great info for the unwary and even the wary record collector
Don’t forget the Mosaic box set…
LJC: thanks for this brilliant collector’s guide to Strata East! Always very grateful for you sharing your fascinating and thoroughly researched work!