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Clifford Jordan: The Complete Clifford Jordan Strata-East Sessions

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Tenor saxophone grandmaster Clifford Jordan, who produced the seven dates that comprise The Complete Clifford Jordan Strata-East Sessions (Mosaic), performs on only three of the six CDs that comprise this box set. But his extreme individualism suffuses the proceedings, a fascinating snapshot of an under-documented period of hardcore jazz expression in New York.

The chronology begins in January 1968, when Jordan-who had led LPs for Blue Note, Riverside and other labels, and consequentially sidemanned with, among others, Horace Silver, J.J. Johnson, Max Roach and Charles Mingus-recorded Edward Blackwell (Shades of Edward Blackwell), Charles Brackeen (Rhythm X) and Wilbur Ware (Super Bass) for a venture called Frontier Records. During the early ’70s, Strata-East released Rhythm X (January 1968), Cecil Payne’s Zodiac (December 1968), Pharaoh Sanders’ Izipho Zam (My Gifts) (January 1969) and Jordan’s In the World (spring 1969). The latter three are long out of print; Super Bass was minimally distributed in 2012; Shades is previously unreleased.

Under Strata-East’s auspices in 1973, Jordan made his personal masterpiece, Glass Bead Games (available as a CD since 2007), with two synchronous, Billy Higgins-propelled rhythm sections-one with Cedar Walton and Sam Jones, the other with Stanley Cowell and Bill Lee. All contribute compositions. No better representation exists of Jordan’s narrative gifts-his lyricism, wit, mastery of changes-playing and vocalized tone, broad and burnished at all tempos and harmonic contexts, equally comfortable deploying the bright colors of the upper register and the dark hues of the tenor’s bottom.

For In the World, Jordan assembles a three-horn frontline with Julian Priester (a brother Chicagoan and DuSable H.S. alum) on trombone and either Don Cherry or Kenny Dorham on trumpet. The pianist is Wynton Kelly; the bassists-sometimes separately, sometimes together-are Ware and DuSable-ite Richard Davis. Albert Heath plays drums on Cherry’s tunes; Blackwell and Roy Haynes play in tandem on Dorham’s. For all its conceptual ambition, the finished product is middling; the ensemble sounds under-rehearsed and Kelly-prominent in the mix on a badly out-of-tune piano-seems stymied by the raw materials.

The piano is less distracting on Zodiac, on which the Kelly-Ware-Heath rhythm section swings tone-masters Payne and Dorham through five of the leader’s well-wrought originals, which address bop, funk, and soul-jazz flavors. On the three extended modal excursions of Izipho Zam, it is barely noticeable as Lonnie Liston Smith patiently vamps, keeping home base in view for Sanders and guitarist Sonny Sharrock while they illuminate the outer partials on a groove palette from five drummers, among them Billy Hart, Chief Bey and, when not yodeling, Leon Thomas.

The remainder is pianoless. On Rhythm X, Cherry, Charlie Haden and Blackwell collaborate with Oklahoma-born tenor saxophonist Brackeen, a blues shouter with his own take on Ornette Coleman’s language. Blackwell’s date includes meandering drum chants by an ensemble including Higgins, Dennis Charles and Roger Blank, and “Farid,” a minor blues by tenor saxophonist Luqman Lateef (a sonic dead-ringer for Jordan), on which Blackwell and Ware propel Lateef and Cherry through clarion solos, setting up Blackwell’s second-line-meets-West-Africa solo.

The same ensemble operates on Super Bass, Ware’s second recording as a leader, 11 years after The Chicago Sound. It’s a major addition to the bass lexicon. The Ware-Blackwell rapport is evident on “Wilbur’s Red Cross” (based on the 1944 Charlie Parker line), featuring Jordan’s blues holler and an outside-in declamation by Cherry that embodies the qualities Miles Davis dug at the time. On Jordan’s “Mod House,” a blues, Ware’s indomitable time feel and catgut tone reveal Malachi Favors’ roots and branches. Jordan composes a gorgeous reharmonized intro to “A Real Nice Lady,” conducts an adult conversation with Cherry on her qualities, then allows final word to the leader, a Jimmy Blanton acolyte, who uncorks a variant on the Ellington-Blanton 1940 duo on “Sophisticated Lady.” Ware also offers two extended solo pieces-including a free-associative 10-minute invention titled “Symphony for J.R.” that finds its way to Blanton’s “J.B. Blues”-and a lively take on his ditty “Riff Raff,” from a 1956 Chess date led by Johnny Griffin.

Originally Published