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Stanley Cowell

On the first new release from the Mosaic subsidiary of Blue Note, veteran trumpeter Tolliver finally makes the long awaited big-band recording of the group that has played occasionally in New York City, revived from the remnants of his legendary '70s Music Inc. Orchestra. A bit of the old repertoire ("Mournin' Variations" and "Right Now") and a few former members (Billy HarperHoward JohnsonStanley CowellCecil McBee) remain from the group that made powerful albums for the Strata East label. The current 16-piece ensemble, at least for this two-day session, has a rougher edge. The music is exciting, joyous, exuberant, and upbeat, but also displays a dense, sometimes messy persona, and has intonation issues. It makes the music less attractive and inconsistent. But the high points are way up in the stratosphere. "Right Now," most familiar to Tolliver fans, roars in modal juggernaut fashion, laden with staccato accents and deft call-and-response. The singing, sweet title cut gives those not familiar with the raucous dynamic the band usually portrays something more centered and singularly melodic. "Mournin' Variations" is the showstopper: as Craig Handy's oriental-flavored flute line, accented by clarinet and bass clarinet, leads to deep counterpoint, Harper's familiar distinctive and robust tenor soloing, witty trombone from Stafford Hunter, and the always poignant and placid pianistics of the brilliant Cowell.Tolliver's bold arrangement, replete with up-and-down dynamics during "'Round Midnight," indicates this band is not fooling around, and playing for keeps. The closer, a new piece "Hit the Spot," is typically kinetic, and a feature for the always spot-on drumming of Victor Lewis, joined by Handy's clean alto saxophone. This CD was nominated in 2007 for a Grammy award as Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album.