July 15, 2024

Charles Tolliver – ‘Connect’ – fresh and bright but channeling a classic groove

GEARBOX RECORDS     31ST July 2020

London label, Gearbox Records, have been flying the flag high for UK artists as well as the US releases and this continues the very high quality output. Jazz is going through a periodic renaissance in the UK and the label continues to highlight some of the best contemporary musicians. Tolliver isn’t a new artist or British, though this is his first release in eleven years and I’m glad they dragged him to the mic. His four-piece band sounds bigger than that, with Lenny White’s upfront and full drums opening the set and Buster Williams’ double bass providing a steady thrum to the sound. It reminds me of the classic Blue Note sound of the early sixties, somehow smooth, yet with space to groove and noodle.

Tolliver’s trumpet never dominates, instead weaving a fine line through everything. He’s not exactly prolific, spreading his album releases out over the last thirty-two years but has worked as a sideman to lots of acclaimed artists, such as Jackie McLean, Max Roach, Horace Silver, McCoy Tyner and Roy Ayers, perhaps accounting for the classic sound. This reminds me of some of those Blue Note albums that also had just four tracks, by people like Lee Morgan or Jimmy Smith. The ten minute tracks allow the band to explore the tune, to stretch and twist a bit, to jam and to get a great gentle groove going.  As befits a label that trades in vinyl, there are two sides; a more laid back side and one with the breezy blowing Copasetic and the racy rumble of Suspicion.

There is a happy spontaneity in the air, perhaps because Gearbox snatched the recording time in the UK while the band were touring Europe and got it down in a day. Binker Golding pops up briefly in Emperor March, to add his lyric tenor sax to Jesse Davis’ alto sax. He reappears in Suspicion, to close the set. Everyone gets a solo in this closer, from the bass solo that opens, to the short drum workout and it gets big on the blowing, with Tolliver’s trumpet and two saxophones.

Big on grooves and freshly classic, this one has had a lot of play here.

About Author