Special to Our Time Press
By Herb Boyd
Ahmed Abdullah, the music director at Sistas’ Place in Brooklyn, took the stage Saturday evening and announced that it was their 24th season and that Charles Tolliver’s All-Stars were there to celebrate their 50th Anniversary.
When Tolliver and his group opened the evening’s first set, an anachronistic sound prevailed and suddenly it was as though you were caught in the vortex of the past, a musical past where hard bop was prominent.
In fact, it was as if you were once again experiencing Tolliver’s debut album back in 1968 on the Strata-East label. Back then, I was in Detroit and a member of Strata-West. Back then, too, Tolliver’s group consisted of pianist Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter on bass and Joe Chambers on drums.
The only musician from that date this evening with the trumpeter was alto saxophonist Gary Bartz. And they reprised that accelerating moment with tunes reflective of the recording, particularly “Lil’s Paradise,” “Paper Man” and “Household of Saud.”
On each of the tunes, as on the recording, Tolliver and Bartz are a furious unison, and the spirited staccato, the rapid spurts of Tolliver’s trumpet blended harmoniously with Bartz’s swift arpeggios. They established a consistent vigor and pianist Keith Brown’s performance echoed Hancock’s, just as Buster Williams’s bass was equal to Carter’s, while Lenny White evoked the persistent strokes of Joe Chambers.
Among the jazz notables in the audience were Rene McLean, Donald Smith and percussionist/composer James Mtume, who served as guest host. On one number, Tolliver and Bartz seemed to provide a gracious nod to Jackie McLean, Rene’s famed father, with a bebop-flavored ballad with Bartz taking cues from Brown’s brightly colored chords.
Apparently, the group was ensnared in a highly addictive energy because they sped well beyond the stopping point, and outside Sistas’ Place, a long line of fans was patiently waiting for the next set. Tolliver and his cohorts are still invested in the jazz of yesteryear, though their driving narrative has a significant present, and one that is very much in keeping with Sistas’ Place, determination that the past is prologue and some of those accomplishments are necessities in the future. Yes, 50 years for Tolliver and 24 for Sistas’ Place’s annual jazz opening, and the bop and the beat goes on.