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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.

"Capra Black" remains one of the seminal recordings of jazz's black consciousness movement. A profoundly spiritual effort that channels both the intellectual complexity of the avant-garde as well as the emotional potency of gospel, its focus and assurance belie Billy Harper's inexperience as a leader. Backed by an all-star supporting unit including trombonist Julian Priester and drummer Billy Cobham, Harper's tenor summons the brute force and mystical resolve of John Coltrane but transcends its influences to communicate thoughts and feelings both idiosyncratic and universal. This is music of remarkable corporeal substance that somehow expresses the pure language of the soul. 

Most of the musicians who gathered to record this fantastic spiritual jazz record for the Strata-East label on May 24th, 1974 had crossed each other's paths in various musical pairings over the preceding few years. Husband and wife team Dee Dee Bridgewater (vocals) and Cecil Bridgewater (trumpet) had been working together on albums like Frank Foster's "Loud Minority", and Roy Ayers' "Coffy" and "Virgo Red". Ten weeks before the "Freedom Of Speech" session, the couple had been joined in Tokyo by Cecil's brother Ronald Bridgewater (tenor saxaphone) to record Dee Dee's debut album, the beautiful "Afro Blue". Also in the studio on May 24th, 1974 was Donald Smith, (piano, vocals), fresh from recording on his older brother Lonnie Liston Smith's "Cosmic Funk" - on which Ronald Bridgewater had also played percussion. Cecil McBee (bass) was also there - just two weeks before, he'd completed his own Strata East date "Mutima", and in February he'd played on Mtume's "Rebirth Cycle" - with both albums also featuring Dee Dee Bridgewater on vocals. He'd also played on Lonnie Liston Smith's "Astral Travelling".
So 1974 was a huge year for all five of these people. Donald Smith and Cecil McBee were six months away from recording on Lonnie Liston Smith's massive "Expansions", with McBee fitting in a few Pharoah Sanders albums in between.


Millie says: Billy Parker brings us the best sort of Jazz - upbeat and full of life! The sound greets the ears with orchestrated bliss which all glue together in a perfect array of Jazz Funk.

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