Blue Note Records
Tolliver, heard on Blue Note sessions led by Jackie McLean, Horace Silver and Andrew Hill in the ’60s and on his and Stanley Cowell’s Strata-East label in the ’70s, makes his Blue Note debut as a leader on this blazing big-band album. Contributing arrangements, compositions and fiery, dramatic trumpet solos, he charts a personal big-band course that starts with the drums and builds brass and woodwind structures on top of that. Along the way, you may hear echoes of the rhythmic complexity and high-note dazzle of Dizzy Gillespie’s big band, the close harmony of Oliver Nelson’s writing and the cumulative rhythmic insistence of Gerald Wilson’s Latin arrangements.
Drummer Victor Lewis, bassist Cecil McBee and lead trumpeter David Guy power the ensemble. Tolliver takes the majority of the solos, his style reminiscent of ’60s firebrands Freddie Hubbard and Woody Shaw, but more impulsive. Pianists Robert Glasper and Cowell, tenor saxophonist Billy Harper and trombonist Stafford Hunter, among others, also appear in solo roles.
“’Round Midnight,” the lone standard in the set, gets a hair-raising, multi-rhythmic treatment in contrast to the usual introspective reading. The remainder of the tunes are Tolliver originals, beginning with “Rejoicin’,” an intense, interplay-filled performance in three-quarter time. “Mournin’ Variations,” which Tolliver wrote more than 30 years ago, utilizes clarinets and flutes in a lovely, spiritual-like introduction. “Hit the Spot” gives Lewis the spotlight—or more of it than he already commands in the other drum-rich performances.
Trumpeter David Weiss, who inspired Tolliver to dig out his big-band charts from the Strata-East days and fire up a large group again, deserves credit for the band’s initial gig in 2003 and ultimately this album. It’s good to hear the progressive spirit of the ’60s revived so passionately here.