In 1979 I played piano on the album This One's for Pearl by the innovative drummer Jim Schappereow. Along with bassist Buster Williams, the session featured alto saxophonist/flutist Frank Strozier. Almost thirty years later I can still recall every Strozier solo from that afternoon, so spectacular was his playing.
So it's a great pleasure to once again hear two long-lost Strozier albums, Calm, Cool and Collected and Fantastic Frank Strozier. I'll focus on the former in this review, but recommend that you check them both out (the latter having the added bonus of featuring Booker Little on trumpet.)
Strozier's alto playing is a unique blend of Charlie Parker- and John Coltrane-influenced phrases, combined with a decidedly Memphis-inflected tinge, all delivered with a slightly ahead-of-the-beat urgency. His up-tempo improvisations are adventurous and totally assured, his ballad playing is plangent and moving, and his blues solos (no matter how sophisticated the substitute chord changes) are as earthy as Eddie Vinson's.
On Calm, Cool and Collected you get to sample all three idioms. The album takes off with a decisive “Day In-Day Out” with Strozier tearing through melody and then eating up the changes, his ideas furiously articulate. “Stairway to the Stars” is the ballad standout of the set; rhythmically assured and sensual, there's not a drop of sentimentality to be found. “Cloudy and Cool” (reminiscent of “Black Coffee”) offers three fantastic variations on how even the most high-flown of blues can manage to keep the music close to its source.