Charles Tolliver Returns Once More, This Time With His Chops


Until he disappeared in the late ’70s amid rumors of acrimony following the dissolution of Strata-East, the co-op label he ran with pianist Stanley Cowell, Charles Tolliver’s career paralleled Woody Shaw’s. Both were hot, Coltrane-influenced trumpeters bent on proving they had chops to match Freddie Hubbard’s and integrity to boot. When Tolliver briefly re-emerged midway through the next decade, it was without the chops. But they’re back again, and so is he—on a three-disc Mosaic Select reissue of his Strata-East quartet albums wih their excitement still palpable and an hour’s worth of previously unissued material added, and with an unrecorded big band so in-the-moment that its battle cry could be “enough of what was” even when it’s reinterpreting a Tolliver piece from the ’70s. There hasn’t been any money in big bands for a long time, and these days they’re about buddies hanging out together, which helps explain why their membership tends to be predominantly white or black. Tolliver’s is bi-generational as well as biracial; the twist is that while the rhythm section and most of the soloists are his black contemporaries from the generation Blue Note turned its back on, the section players are white acolytes who grew up analyzing their Strata-Easts (could this be a new paradigm?). This band knows only presto and fortissimo, but here that’s a recommendation. There’s subtlety enough in the zag and flare of Tolliver’s lines and also in the solos. Along with the leader, tenor saxophonist Bill Saxton and pianist Ronnie Matthews took top honors at Birdland in late January. A companion Mosaic of his two Strata-East big-band LPs is called for. But even better would be for someone to record this band quick, preferably on the job.