Summer 1968. Three killer LPs made in the space of two weeks document one version of serious and community-focused black jazz. In the larger frame, it was the Aquarian age, a time of youthful rebellion and the expansion of consciousness. The Civil Rights movement had scored major victories, but there was still a long way to go (Martin Luther King was assassinated in April). In the musical realm John Coltrane had died less than a year earlier, around the time Miles Davis released Nefertiti, the final Davis album without electric instruments. Black-owned Motown had established serious market share on the radio, and any kind of avant-garde technique borrowed from free jazz was also on the table.
Present on all three sessions was a pair of upcoming and outstanding horn players, Charles Tolliver and Gary Bartz. Max Roach’s Members Don’t Git Weary feature them both; Tolliver guests on half of Bartz’s Another Earth; Bartz guests on half of Tolliver’s Paper Man. (In the liner notes to Another Earth, Maxine Bartz says that the Bartz/Tolliver association goes back to 1959.)
According to obvious sources, these are the dates and places for the 1968 sessions:
Bartz, Another Earth (Milestone), June 19 & 25, Plaza Sound Studios, NYC
Roach, Members, Don’t Git Weary (Atlantic), June 25 & 26, RCA Studio B, NYC
Tolliver, Paper Man (Black Lion), July 2, Town Sound Studios, Englewood, NJ
June 25 is listed for both Roach and Bartz, which is unlikely, especially since they are different labels and studios, but not absolutely impossible. (The recording dates for the sessions are present in the original liner notes for Bartz and Tolliver, but not for Roach. Roach is found online and in the Lord discography. Possibly a user error entered the system at some point.)
Max Roach, Members, Don’t Git Weary with Charles Tolliver, Gary Bartz, Stanley Cowell, Jymie Merritt, and vocalist Andy Bey on the title track
Max Roach was one of the original bebop geniuses in the group that included Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell, and Thelonious Monk. In the ’50’s he co-led one of the great ensembles of all time with Clifford Brown; in the ’60s Roach was a visible advocate for Civil Rights, with albums called We Insist! and Speak, Brother, Speak!
Roach knew the whole history of the music, recording successfully with everyone from Duke Ellington to Cecil Taylor. The style of Members, Don’t Git Weary is absolutely of the moment, with little in the way of the pure bebop tradition of Roach’s earlier associates Bud Powell or Charlie Parker. Instead there are funk beats, electric bass vamps, and modal tropes straight from John Coltrane and McCoy Tyner.
“Abstrutions” Stanley Cowell supplies three pieces for the date. The main funky riff of “Abstrutions” is answered by a quartal phrase reminiscent of Eddie Harris’s “Freedom Jazz Dance.” Cowell is the only soloist, displaying greasy two-handed pianism with the horns giving responses. A radio-friendly track.
“Libra” Gary Bartz debuted this memorable modal theme on his first album, Libra, recorded the previous year. Staccato rhythmic hits give away to fast 4/4 for hard blowing from Bartz and Tolliver. Great drum solo, Roach’s kit is well-recorded. This is the one tune where Merritt walks, and I admit that this is the only place it might have been better if he had been playing upright instead of electric bass.
“Effi” Roach gets credit for playing the first jazz waltzes on record in the ’50s. By this point his conception was quite loose and fluid, perhaps even influenced by the way Elvin Jones played “My Favorite Things.” Cowell’s piece moves around a bit harmonically, but the horn trades make the most of the related pentatonic scale.
“Equipoise” Probably Cowell’s best-known composition. The first recording is a masterpiece, an evocative way to turn the modal burn into an impressionistic even-eighths tone poem. Both Tolliver and Bartz show their lyrical side. Again, while the chord sequence is quite complex, the soloists are able to access pentatonic scales common to disparate bass notes/harmonies.
“Members, Don’t Git Weary” While credited to Roach, “Members, Don’t Git Weary” is an older spiritual. The band plays in a loose rubato style, as on the opening part of of Coltrane’s “Spiritual.” Andy Bey sounds great leading the congregation.
“Absolutions” Jymie Merritt was a bassist associated with both Art Blakey and Max Roach. He wrote a few important pieces; the best-known is probably “Nommo,” an early excursion into 7/4 recorded by both Roach and Lee Morgan. “Absolutions” is a dark investigation of the Phrygian mode with an ominous 4/4 bass line. Cowell is on electric piano and Roach delivers many fierce single-stroke rolls next to Merritt’s vamp. The horns play their angular modal phrases that hew reasonably close to the dark keyboard tonality. Overall, the aesthetic of “Absolutions” is absolutely next door to the 1968 Miles Davis sessions that produced Miles in the Sky and Filles de Kilimanjaro, especially the similar in-your-face even-eighth drumming of Max Roach and Tony Williams. Fabulous.
The only serious problem with Members, Don’t Get Weary is the lack of piano solos, for Cowell only lets loose on the opening track.
Gary Bartz, Another Earth with Stanley Cowell, Reggie Workman, and Freddie Waits, joined by Charles Tolliver and Pharoah Sanders on the title suite
While Bird was the bebop word, Trane gave the modal message. In 1968, compared to the tenor sax roster, the altos were less thick on the ground. Ornette Coleman and Eric Dolphy had established the avant-garde model, taken up in varied ways by people like James Spaulding, Marion Brown, Jimmy Lyons and Ken McIntyre, but there was plenty of room for Gary Bartz to present the swinging and burning Trane concept on alto. (Sonny Fortune was Bartz’s peer, but he wasn’t so apparent on record yet.)
“Another Earth” This side-long suite is genuinely successful, a kind of updating of Coltrane’s long-form concept for Meditations and other pieces, but with more written material and more stylistic diversity. (In addition, the theme of planets in the cosmos recalls Coltrane’s Interstellar Space.) Compositionally there’s a lot here, but in the end it is also very much a feature for the leader’s incandescent alto.
1) Fanfare with intervallic theme. 2) Intervallic theme becomes gospel with preaching alto solo. 3) Minor swing that almost immediately devolves into late Trane style with Sanders in full effect, followed by Bartz also in high-expressionistic mood, who brings in the time with 4) New uptempo theme, minor modal with a few dominant chord changes. Tolliver and Bartz both blow well over a loose rhythm section. 5) Bass cadenza. 6) “Wall of sound” chords from all hands with alto cadenzas. 7) A brief syncopated passage turns into a dirge, a hint of waltz, a hard unison flourish, then back to 8) Medium swing with Tolliver telling his story with that beautiful trumpet sonority. More joyous Bartz, before Sanders steps up to play a bit of swinging tenor before going more into the esoteric zone. Sounds great. Cowell finally gets a bit of a say, with a relaxed searching exploration in tempo, both hands in different places. 9) A few horn lines and concluding fanfare.
All told, “Another Earth” must be one of the very best long-form suites from this era and context. Freddie Waits is the true MVP, handling all the changes of mood with depth and finesse.
“Dark Nebula” The swinging piece alternates between 3/4 and 4/4. Workman may have been considered a straight-ahead bassist earlier in the decade, someone to hold it down next to Art Blakey, but by this time he evolved to being a true wild card, someone to give Richard Davis a run for their money in terms of an esoteric bass space. Workman’s solo here is notably creative and engaging. Towards the end, Bartz really takes flight over Waits’s exciting churn.
“UFO” Cheerful bluesy dominants next to each other, a bit Monk-ish in affect. Band swings out. Yeah. Cowell gets a good say. At this moment Cowell was truly a standout alternative to McCoy Tyner, Herbie Hancock, and Chick Corea, able to play their shared modal language with personality and wit.
“Lost In The Stars” A Kurt Weill tune taken on duo by Bartz and Workman. From the beginning, it is hardly a basic ballad, but a rich exploration of possibility. Bartz’s heartfelt reading of the melody suspends over fast and abstract bass. (The idea of “Lost in the Stars” fits in with the “Interstellar” theme of the LP.)
“Perihelion And Aphelion” The aphelion is when the Earth is farthest from the sun; the perihelion is when they are the closest. This story is told musically in a tempo change from medium waltz to uptempo 4/4. Bartz’s theme honks out some of the lowest notes on alto, a moment that sounds particularly Coltrane-ish.
Charles Tolliver, Paper Man with Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, and Joe Chambers, with Gary Bartz joining in on side B
This session was Tolliver’s first as a leader. It was recorded at Town Sound Studios in Englewood, which seems to have been a just-down-the-block but black-owned alternative to Van Gelder’s. Tootie Heath’s Kawaida was also recorded there.
The LP was somewhat belatedly released as Charles Tolliver and his All-Stars on Black Lion in 1971; my first copy was as Paper Man in the Arista/Freedom reissue series from 1975. In some ways Tolliver’s LP pairs with Woody Shaw’s first album as a leader, which was tracked for Blue Note in 1965 (and also features Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, and Joe Chambers, although all three don’t play as a unit) yet only finally released in the ’80s as In the Beginning. Another album from the associated network was 1969’s Brilliant Circles with Stanley Cowell, which also suffered from delays; my first copy was again the Arista/Freedom reissue series that had Paper Man.
If these three notably strong releases from Shaw, Tolliver, and Cowell had been presented as soon as the LPs were made from a label with a profile, we might write jazz history a little differently. Surely these troublesome delays were one reason Tolliver and Cowell started their own label Strata-East in 1971.
A few Strata-East dates were also tracked at Town Sound Studios, including Cecil Payne’s Zodiac. I really like the way the bass and drums are captured on Paper Man — indeed, this LP remains one of the best places to check out Joe Chambers — but the piano is a problem. Hancock doesn’t care, he is full of boundless enthusiasm on this out-of-tune upright.
As a unit, Hancock/Carter/Chambers are also heard on:
Sam Rivers Contour
Wayne Shorter The All-Seeing Eye
Wayne Shorter Schizophrenia
Bobby Hutcherson Components
All these Blue Note sessions are fabulous, but they are also all feature compositions that are quite complicated. Tolliver’s strong and charismatic themes for Paper Man are straight to the point, and the rhythm section truly lets the dogs out. Incredible session for all three, Hancock, Carter, and Chambers. Tolliver himself is large and in charge, putting himself right in the league with Woody Shaw and Freddie Hubbard.
Pianist George Colligan placed Paper Man in his personal top 10 list and wrote a blog entry where he goes though the six tunes. Colligan’s comments are on point, so I will direct readers to his post for the play-by-play.
Summer of ’68. Some serious music was being made!