Thursday, May 25, 2017

Charles Tolliver / Music Inc. - 1969 - The Ringer

Charles Tolliver / Music Inc.
The Ringer

01. Plight 7:09
02. On The Nile 12:31
03. The Ringer 5:46
04. Mother Wit 8:46
05. Spur 5:02

Charles Tolliver: trumpet
Stanley Cowell: piano
Steve Novosel: bass
Jimmy Hopps: drums

Recorded at Polydor Studios, London, 2nd June 1969.

Dizzy Gillespie, when asked in a Downbeat magazine interview with Herb Nolan, "what trumpet players do you hear today whom you like", Dizzy's reply, "Charles Tolliver - I like him". Charles Tolliver, entirely self-taught, is a remarkable talent who has gained an outstanding reputation as a trumpetist, bandleader, composer, arranger, and educator. Born in Jacksonville, Florida in 1942, his musical career began at the age of 8 when his beloved grandmother, Lela, presented him with his first instrument, a cornet, and the inspiration to learn.

After a few years of college majoring in pharmacy at Howard University, and formulating his trumpet style, Charles began his professional career with the saxophone giant Jackie Mclean. Making his recording debut with McLean on Blue Note Records in 1964, Charles has since recorded and/or performed with such renowned artists as Roy Haynes, Hank Mobley, Willie Bobo, Horace Silver, McCoy Tyner, Sonny Rollins, Booker Ervin, The Gerald Wilson Orchestra, Oliver Nelson, Andrew Hill, Louis Hayes, Roy Ayers, Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers, and Max Roach.

In 1968 Charles Tolliver was voted as the Downbeat Critic's Choice for the Trumpet category. In 1969 he formed the quartet Music Inc which has become internationally respected for its innovative approach. Charles and his Music Inc, has toured in North and South America, Europe, Scandinavia, and Japan performing at festivals, concerts, radio and television stations.

Charles Tolliver is a brilliant player, capable of handling any tempo or mood. He has perfected an extremely individual and distinctive sound which clearly sets him apart from other trumpet players today. Characterized by a strong sense of tradition, Charles's playing is noted for its brilliance, inventiveness, melodic warmth and even its poignancy. His compositions are inventive, and display masterful writing ability. It is no small wonder that Charles Tolliver has earned the reputation as one of "the" preeminent trumpeters in jazz.

What have the critics said?

"The trumpet is a brass instrument that leans toward a hard sound and staccato phrasing. Yet Tolliver is the quintessance of fluidity.... a trumpeter of such flow, tone, control, lyricism and creativity is, by definition, a major musician."  
Michael Cuscuna
"Tolliver's horn style is possessed of a melodic warmth and compactness of expression shared by few other trumpeters"  
Ray Townley/DOWNBEAT

"...At Ronnie Scott's, in London, last week I heard a trumpet player who played melodic, lyrical music that filled the heart with joy rather than angst and anger."  

"...While having a rich, full sound, Music Inc. Provides a great deal of both energy and contrast and avoids the loud, stupid excesses of some current groups..."   
CODA/Canada's Jazz Magazine

"it's been said that trumpeter Charles Tolliver was singular among young jazz musicians in his determination to keep his art free of the anarchy associated with a lot of the early so-called free jazz. Certainly he's unique among new trumpeters in this regard."  

"of all the trumpeters to come to prominence in the 60's. Charles Tolliver was perhaps the most sensitive to the necessity of swinging.."  

This is the Charles Tolliver record to get, although it may be hard to find. The masterful trumpeter, in a quartet with pianist Stanley Cowell, bassist Steve Novosel, and drummer Jimmy Hopps, plays five of his strongest compositions. Highlights include the powerful "On the Nile," "The Ringer," and "Spur," but each of the numbers has its memorable moments. Tolliver is heard at the peak of his creative powers; it is strange that he never received the fame and recognition that he deserved.

Exceptional post-bop showing Tolliver's ability to lead a quartet
Trumpeter Charles Tolliver began his career with some excellent sideman appearances on Blue Note albums in the mid 60's (with the likes of Jackie McLean, Horace Silver, and Andrew Hill), but began recording as a leader of his own quartet in the late 60's. "The Ringer" is his second recording as a leader and was released in 1969 for the British Polydor label. Joining Tolliver in the quartet are pianist Stanley Cowell, bassist Steve Novosel, and drummer Jimmy Hopps. The five compositions were all composed by Tolliver.

Tolliver has been called "the Coltrane of the trumpet," and that description seems to fit the music on this record pretty well. The opening track, "Plight" is a fast, modal swinger with a loose vamp-like feel. The quartet definitely seems influenced by the classic Coltrane quartet, especially Cowell who sticks mostly to quartal voicings when comping. Tolliver has no trouble leading the ensemble through extended solos and throughout the album his bright, clear tone is at the forefront of the music. It's hard to find much fault with his playing; his solos are full of deeply melodic lines, but he breaks them up with bursts of dramatic abstraction, using repeated notes and occasionally extended techniques for effect. The rhythm section plays responsively, adding harmonic and rhythmic tension to match Tolliver's ideas, occasionally obscuring, but never moving too far away from the groove of the tune. 

Cowell also delivers some nice solo work, easily slipping in and out of the harmony with clever melodic playing, but also able to build rhythmic tension with excellent chordal playing. As with Tolliver, the rhythm section supports his every move with flexible, but ultimately swinging responses. Though he often sticks to Tyner-esque modal vocings behind Tolliver, he delves into more interesting voicings in "On the Nile," another modal tune, but this time with a Phrygian tinge that adds a darker edge to the tune. 

The title track opens the B side with one of the more memorable tunes on the record. "The Ringer" has a simple, funky melody that relies on the rhythm section's energetic playing to give the tune it's palpable energy. Tolliver manages to bump the energy level up several notches in his exciting and extroverted solo, and Cowell also gives a spirited statement. "Mother Wit" is a slower tune and focuses on Tolliver's lyrical abilities and Cowell's harmonic sophistication more than any of the other tunes. The spacious nature of the tune also allows for some excellent, but subtle bass work from Novosel as the tune moves into a deep medium swing. The closing track "Spur" is a fairly standard 12 bar blues, and though it's the least interesting composition on the album, the band takes a creative harmonic approach and manages to do some pretty interesting things within the context of the blues form.

This record is a great example of late 60's post-bop and the trumpet quartet is a somewhat rare ensemble for the style, which typically features a saxophone in the front line as well. However, Tolliver's compelling playing and the responsive accompaniment of the rhythm section proves that no saxophone is necessary here. This album makes for a great introduction to Tolliver's playing and will leave little doubt in most listeners' minds why Tolliver has been labeled the "Coltrane of the trumpet."

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