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STRATA-EAST

A landmark recording in early creative improvised modern music, bassist Cecil McBee's recording for the Strata East label is an important document introducing him as a leader from the international jazz-based scene in New York City via his native Tulsa, OK and following a brief mid-'60s stint in Detroit. McBee as a pure musician has staggering technique, rich harmonic ideas, and an indefatigable swing, but it is as a composer that he is set apart from other musicians of this mid-'70s era. "Life Waves" is a stunning piece of composed and improvised music, with a brief clarion horn section setting off McBee's chordal strumming and harp bop drive. Trumpeter Tex Allen's brash lines, the incendiary tenor saxophonist George Adams, and more thoughtful alto saxophonist Allen Braufman dig into hefty but contrasting solos, while drummer Jimmy Hopps stokes the coals. The other premier piece, "Mutima," has a soaring longer melody switching on and off onto a samba palate that is pretty, beautiful, and much more introspective than other wild and woolly cuts. The legendary but under recognized flutist Art Webb shines on the floaty free "A Feeling,' and the atypical but wholly contemporized "Tulsa Black," a portent to the music that would be made later in this time period by Sonny Fortune, and featuring the wah-wah electric bass guitar work of Cecil McBee, Jr. The two-minute "Voice of the Seventh Angel" sports the disparity of a complex arrangement alongside the beautiful singing of a young Dee Dee Bridgewater, while the marathon "From Within" has McBee performing solo, but overdubbed on two basses in opposite stereo channels, using serene long-toned arco and static pizzicato in arresting sounds that meld into a bridge squawk reminiscent of the saxophone playing of bandmate Adams. In retrospect, McBee's great career was ostensibly launched well before this recording, having worked with prominently with Charles Lloyd, Alice Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders, Yusef Lateef, Charles Tolliver, and countless others. "Mutima" (translated as "unseen forces") undoubtedly solidified his stature and brilliance as a major player.
Michael G. Nastos/AMG

Pharoah Sanders

Izipho Zam(My Gifts)

Two years after the death of his mentor and boss, John Coltrane, and just before signing his own contract with Impulse!, Pharoah Sanders finally got around to releasing an album as a leader apart from the Impulse! family. Enlisting a cast of characters no less than 13 in number, Sanders proved that his time with Coltrane and his Impulse! debut, Tauhid, was not a fluke. Though hated by many of the jazz musicians at the time -- and more jazz critics who felt Coltrane had lost his way musically the minute he put together the final quintet -- Sanders followed his own muse to the edges of Eastern music and sometimes completely outside the borderlines of what could be called jazz. That said, Izipho Zam is a wonderful recording, full of the depth of vision and heartfelt soul that has informed every recording of Sanders since. Guests include Sonny Sharrock, Lonnie Liston Smith, Chief Bey, Cecil McBee, Sirone, Sonny Fortune, Billy Hart, Howard Johnson, and others. The set begins with a gorgeous soul tune in "Prince of Peace," with Leon Thomas doing his trademark yodel, croon, and wail as Smith, McBee, and Hart back him and Sanders fills the gaps. Next is "Balance," the first blowing tune on the set, with the African drums, the modal horns, and Sanders' microtonal investigations of sonic polarity contrasted with Johnson's tuba, leaving the rhythm section to join him as Sharrock and Smith trade drone lines and Sanders turns it into a Latin dance from outer space about halfway through to the end -- it's astonishing. Finally, on the 28-minute title track, the band members -- all of them -- begin a slow tonal inquiry, a textured traipse into the abyss of dissonance and harmonic integration, with Thomas as the bridge through which all sounds must travel on their way to the ensemble. From here, percussion, bells, whistles, Sharrock's heavily chorded guitar -- all provide rhythm upon interval upon tonal figure until the horns enter at about 12 minutes. They move slowly at first and gather force until they blast it right open at 20 minutes and the last eight are all free blowing and an endurance ride for the listener because, with four minutes left, Sanders leads the band in a gorgeous lyric ride that brings together all disparate elements in his world and ours, making this track -- and album -- an exhilarating, indispensable out jazz experience.



STAFF COMMENTS

Millie says: Spiritual jazz legend Pharoah Sanders, Izipho Zam(My Gifts) is a literal gift to all jazz fans out there, full of rhythm and fantastic percussion. Joined by big names, Sonny Sharrock, Lonnie Liston Smith, Chief Bey, Cecil McBee to name a few, full on talent and style!

John Hicks (1941-2006) gave much to jazz over several decades but never really received the appreciation he so richly deserved. As a pianist, he proved himself in the Art Blakey and Betty Carter universities. He was also the prototypical musician's musician, a first-call pianist for many jazz greats and a magnificent accompanist to the art's best saxists, including Pharoah Sanders, Arthur Blythe, Chico Freeman, Archie Shepp, and David Murray.
He was often accused of hovering in McCoy Tyner's shadow, which is unfair and untrue. But he evinced a great fondness for Coltrane's music and was often heard on many a Coltrane tribute, showing affection for the saxophonist and his appreciation for Tyner's contribution to Coltrane's finest music.
Another facet of John Hicks' career, which gets even less attention than his wondrous playing, is his ability to craft identifiable compositions that are wandering and melodic, suggestive and malleable yet memorable all at once.
It would be difficult to conceive the ideal tribute to John Hicks. As a jazz contributor, he wasn't easily pigeon-holed. While he was always a (straight) jazz player, he skirted the edges of free jazz and pure romanticism that neither side ever appreciates in the other. But both camps could find moments of joyous life in all the ways Hicks chose to express himself. He was an unmistakably perfect accompanist in any mode.


Charles Brackeen

Rhythm X - The Music Of Charles Brackeen

On this record, the little-known Charles Brackeen brings his saxophone to a party with most of Ornette Coleman's band. As might be expected, while Brackeen certainly holds his own, it's Ornette's boys who bring the thunder, playing around Brackeen's muscular alto as if they were a gang jumping on a new member. Haden's bass playing provides the frantic pulse, here and there ceding the stage to Blackwell's flexible drumming and dropping out to provide rolling sheets of sound by bowing his instrument. Brackeen and Cherry wrestle across this solid bedrock, with results that are often surprising and never short of beautiful.


For a label that wasn't around long, Strata East achieved the same sort of label recognition that Impulse! or Blue Note managed to build. In other words, you knew what you were getting when you bought a record on the label, even if you didn't know the names on the outside of the cover. This is no exception. Who is Shamek Farrah? Who knows? Who cares? It's the music that's important. This is the standard spiritually intense new jazz one learns to expect from the label, soaked in some Eastern influences but always with its ear to the street. Musicians took their roles as leaders and spokesmen very seriously back then. This very adult statement from a group of very serious men is no exception. However, what might be an average, forgettable session is rescued by the propulsive engine of Milton Suggs' bass. He adds the fire and the drive that keeps things interesting and prevents the music from wandering into a circular spiritual morass. For fans of the sound or the label, this can be heartily recommended.



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