Charles Sullivan


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Trumpeter, flügelhornist, and composer Charles Sullivan -- pegged as a poor man's Lee Morgan or Woody Shaw -- toiled in many mainstream or progressive big bands of the 1970s, languishing in obscurity until breaking through with this, his debut as a leader. Using a spare, warm tone, Sullivan was a cool customer in the firestorm of progressive jazz and fusion of the day, adapting those idioms to his own brand of personalized jazz. Because of his many professional associations, he was able to employ true cream-of-the-crop musicians like pianists Stanley Cowell, Onaje Allan Gumbs, and Sharon Freeman, saxophonist Sonny Fortune, bassist Alex Blake, percussionist Lawrence Killian, and drummer Billy Hart to play his original compositions. Of the five selections, each has its own distinctive flair, taking from different modern jazz elements prevalent to the time frame while not stuck in a rut with any of them. As the very first piece he ever wrote, "Evening Song" is compelling with its Latin beat and modal montuno piano where Sullivan takes an extended solo, with Cowell also featured before the trumpeter returns for more. A solemn duet with Gumbs for the late pianist John Foster on "Goodbye Sweet John" contrasts with the funky fusion tune "Field Holler," with Freeman's stabbing electric Fender Rhodes chord-driven lines, featuring Alphonse Mouzon's powerhouse drumming and the electric bass of Anthony Jackson, with a lyrical and basic Sullivan sounding influenced by James Brown. The remainder of the recording is a twofold message of despair and renewal, as Dee Dee Bridgewater sings beautifully in the paradox song "Now I'll Sleep," about suicide, with the lyric that one might "choose to lose, afraid to love" with Sullivan's horn in way late. "Genesis" is a 17-plus-minute workout that rises from those sullen ashes with an Afro-modal stance similar to Frank Foster's Loud Minority of the same era. Cowell's piano and the impressive tandem of Sullivan and Fortune's fiery alto sax push the ensemble to the limits of African-American progressive jazz expressionism. This recording received a five-star rating in Down Beat magazine, and while there are too few Charles Sullivan recordings in the marketplace, it's well deserving of this accolade as one of the very best post-bop efforts of its decade, and now available on CD.