In 1971, collectively with the trumpeter Charles Tolliver, Mr. Cowell established Strata-East Data, a pioneering institution in jazz and the broader Black Arts Movement. It would release a continuous run of pathbreaking new music above the coming 10 years, turning out to be just one of the most prosperous Black-operate labels of its time.
Mr. Cowell and Mr. Tolliver achieved in the late 1960s, as members of the drummer Max Roach’s ensemble. Just after recording a now-classic album with Roach, “Members, Never Git Weary,” in 1968, they formed a quartet known as Songs Inc., which launched its debut LP, “The Ringer,” on Polydor in 1970. But Mr. Cowell and Mr. Tolliver discovered by themselves not able to obtain a label that would pay what they considered a fair advance for their following album, at a time when jazz’s business appeal was fading.
Impressed by the Black musicians’ collectives that experienced not long ago sprouted up in metropolitan areas throughout the region, and by the artist-run Strata label in Detroit, Mr. Cowell and Mr. Tolliver founded Strata-East. Their second album alongside one another, “Music Inc.,” with the quartet fleshed out into a substantial ensemble, was the label’s very first release.
“The aesthetic ambition was to compose, perform and increase the new music of our good influences, mentors and innovators, although maintaining the distinguishing capabilities of the jazz custom,” Mr. Cowell claimed in a 2015 job interview for the Superfly Data web-site.
Over the coming decade, Strata-East would launch dozens of albums with a very similar objective at coronary heart, together with some gemlike LPs by Mr. Cowell: “Musa: Ancestral Streams” (1974), a solo album of understated breadth “Regeneration” (1975), an odyssey equally inspired by pop music and pan-Africanism and a pair of singular albums with the Piano Choir, a group of 7 pianists, “Handscapes 1” (1973) and “Handscapes 2” (1975).