Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Charles Tolliver - With Love (Blue Note/Mosaic, 2007)

Trumpeter, composer and arranger Charles Tolliver is one of the unsung heroes of modern jazz. Tolliver made his debut with Jackie McLean in the mid 1960's and ever since, he has investigated the intersection of composition and improvisation as a leader, sideman and educator. Tolliver's profile has been on the rise lately with his excellent sideman appearance on Andrew Hill's Time Lines LP and a short residency for his big band in New York. So, he really makes an appropriate choice for the first collaboration between the Blue Note and Mosaic labels in newly recorded music (they have collaborated for years on re-issues.) There are some wonderful musicians making up the band: saxophonists Billy Harper and Craig Handy, pianist Robert Glasper and drummer Victor Lewis among many others. The music is extraordinarily exciting, beginning with the blasting original chart "Rejoicin" which features an excellent solo from the leader and very good ensemble playing. The title song, "With Love" builds slowly to an explosive conclusion with the entire group whipped into a ferocious swing. Next up is a very interesting re-arrangement of Thelonious Monk's "'Round Midnight" with Tolliver leading the way with some excellent trumpet soloing. The great tenor saxophonist Billy Harper gets an excellent solo spot on "Mournin' Variations" which Tolliver originally wrote for a Max Roach project. The music starts off in a meditative fashion before evolving into a Mingus-like holy rolling swing. The recording is rounded out with performances of the originals "Suspicion" and "Hit the Spot." The first has a bit of a different feel thanks to Tolliver's son Ched, who contributes some fine electric guitar, and the final tune is a blow out for the whole band that is nearly head spinning in its power. This is an astoundingly good progressive big band album, with great charts and superb playing. Kudos all around but especially to Blue Note and Mosaic for taking a chance on this startling music. Very highly recommended.

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