Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Hubert Laws' cultest cult album for CTI, "Morning Star" will be reissued on CD for the first time ever!

Since 1985, when King Records began to release the first CTI CDs in Japan, and since 1987, when Sony Music (then CBS) started to do the same in the USA -- and I had been invited by both companies to contribute to such reissue series as a supervisor, reissue producer, tape researcher or liner notes writer -- I've always pointed out that Hubert Laws' fourth album for CTI, "Morning Star," should be a top choice for the then-new compact disc format.

Oddly, although most of my several other suggestions were accepted, the big bosses always ignored my requests for ressurrecting the Grammy-nominated "Morning Star," despite the fact that it had been one of Hubert Laws' most appreciated albums during the CTI period, which, not coincidentally, also represented Laws' creative heyday.

For me, the strangest fact is that "Morning Star" has never been reissued on CD not even in Japan. Throughout the years, I was even able to convince King Records, Japan's CTI distributor, to reissue albums even by artists they didn't "like", such as Urbie Green, Randy Weston, Yusef Lateef and Gabor Szabo. However, "Morning Star" never made the final lists. Something that also happened to Lateef's "In A Temple Garden," Stanley Turrentine's "The Sugar Man" and many of Joe Farrell's killer sets ("Penny Arcade," Upon This Rock" and "Canned Funk.")

They also refused to reissue George Benson's "Pacific Fire" on CD, alleging that they didn't have the rights for any of the CTI albums originally released after 1982. But, they allowed me to include tracks from "Pacific Fire" on such best-selling compilations as "CTI Acid Jazz Grooves" and"Best of Benson".

[Not to mention that, back in 1990, at the time of the "Rhythmstick" release (ie, the third CTI ressurrection under the aegis of Creed Taylor's himself), during a lunch we had in October 1990 at the Gotham Restaurant in New York (at 12th Street, between University Place and 5th Avenue, near the CTI office at University Place) I suggested Creed to start a reissue program with the "old" CTI masters he hadn't lost to Sony, still owning their rights. Albums like Jim Hall's "Studio Trieste," Urszula Dudziak's "High Horse," Claudio Roditi's "Red on Red" and Les McCann/Houston Person's "Road Warriors," among others. Creed's short answer: "I'm not interested in reissuing any old material"... Some time later, though, he did all that mess on Hall's "Youkali" spending a lot of money with studio fees and paying triple scale to musicians like Dave Weckl to overdub tracks from "Studio Trieste" and "Gershwin Carmichael Cats." But that's another story.]

Four of Hubert's eight albums recorded for CTI in the '70s were reissued on CD in the USA, under the supervision of producer Didier Deutsch, who had worked as publicity director for the label during the '70s: "Crying Song" (originally released as CTI 1002 in 1969, reissued with a different cover in 1970 as CTI 6000), "Afro-Classic" (CTI 6006), "The Rite of Spring" (CTI 6012), "In The Beginning" (CTXC 3+3, a massive 2-LP set also released as single albums under the titles "Then There Was Light Vol. 1" as CTI 6065, and "Then There Was Light Vol. 2" as CTI 6066), plus "The San Francisco Concert" (CTI 7071), on which Didier did a great job, adding many previously unreleased tracks and recreating the concert on its entirety. Didier also produced the compilation "The Best of Hubert Laws," released on the Epic label in 1990, on which he included two tracks from "Morning Star": the title song and "Amazing Grace."

In Japan, except for "Morning Star" (CTI 6022), all other Hubert Laws' albums for CTI eventually became available on CD: "Carnegie Hall" (CTI 6025), "The Chicago Theme" (CTI 6058) and Laws' 1982 collaboration with Jim Hall & Chet Baker, "Studio Trieste" (CTI 9007).

Besides his solo efforts, Laws' presence as sideman in more than 50 CTI/Kudu albums and as one of the key members of the several CTI All-Stars groups formed between 1971 and 1975, turned the best jazz flutist ever into one of the quintessential CTI artists alongside Ron Carter and George Benson. Curiously, after their last studio session in 1982, Laws and Creed Taylor resumed their collaboration 27 years later, when the producer assembled a new CTI All-Star Band that toured Europe in the Summer of 2009. Although the too much announced DVD filmed at the Montreux Jazz Festival has not yet been released, two other concerts -- filmed at the San Javier Festival (Spain) in July 2009 and at Burghausen (Germany) in March 2010 -- are available on the web as bootleg DVDs.

All this talk happens to announce that, next October 12, under the new catalog number Masterworks 8869776833, "Morning Star" will be seeing the light of the day on CD for the first time ever. Anywhere in the world! For this reason, despite the high level of all other albums selected for this new CTI reissue program created by Sony, "Morning Star" stands out as the indispensable star of this series.
Recorded from September to November, 1972, at Van Gelder Studios, "Morning Star" (graced by an unmistakable Pete Turner photo) reached the Billboard charts as #2 among the "Jazz Albums" and #148 in the Pop list of the "Billboard Top 200." The third Hubert Laws CTI LP arranged by the great Don Sebesky, finds the maestro employing a larger instrumentation than the chamber-jazz combos heard on their previous collaborations "Afro-Classic" and "The Rite of Spring."

After the basic tracks were cut with Bob James (Fender Rhodes), Ron Carter (acoustic bass) and Billy Cobham (drums), Creed Taylor invited Ralph MacDonald, Dave Friedman and John Tropea (btw, on his most subtle studio work ever!) to add unobstrusive percussion, vibraphone and guitar touches. Then, Sebesky overdubbed strings and brass, assembling veteran studio masters as multi-reedmen Romeo Penque & Phil Bodner, trumpeters Marvin Stamm & Alan Rubin, trombonist Garnett Brown, harpist Gloria Agostini, and strings concertmaster Harry Lookofsky, my favorite violin player ever. At Laws' request, background vocals (by his sisters Eloise Laws & Debra Laws, plus Tasha Thomas & Lani Groves) were also added on two tracks, anticipating the pop vocal direction he would follow on later albums for Columbia such as "Say It With Silence" and "Land of Passion."

My personal favorite moment on the entire album is the superb title track, composed by the underrated pianist Rodgers Grant, who had previously recorded for CTI, alongside Laws, on Benson's 1969 "Tell It Like It Is," returning to Van Gelder Studio in 1974 for Laws' "In The Beginning" sessions, which included another Grant masterpiece, "Reconciliation."

To celebrate such event, I've asked my dear friend Douglas Payne, CTI's top connoisseur in the world, to provide some insightful comments about “Morning Star.” His brilliant text follows:

Morning Star is a lovely and too-little known orchestral jazz classic that got lost in the shuffle of flautist Hubert Laws’s prodigious CTI output. Recorded between September and November 1972 and issued early in 1973 between Laws’s well-known The Rite of Spring (CTI, 1971) and the lesser-known performance feature Carnegie Hall (CTI, 1973), Morning Song is among the flautist’s most assured albums.

There is a perfectly sublime amalgamation of sound present here, as Laws is beautifully partnered on various flutes with Bob James on electric piano, Ron Carter on acoustic bass and Billy Cobham on drums. Laws and company are then set against some of Don Sebesky’s loveliest orchestral flourishes, as ever as complimentary and as much a part of the conception of the performance as any of the soloists.

Unlike almost every Hubert Laws record that came before it, Morning Star, which was nominated for a Grammy Award in 1973 (as was Freddie Hubbard’s Don Sebesky-arranged “In A Mist”), also ranks among the leader’s most consistent and consistently engaging programs. As before, Laws explores a mix of jazz, the classics, pop, funk and spirituals. But here the fusion works so considerably that each track doesn’t feel like a jump in genre.

Laws traverses jazz and the classics with the title track, written by the flautist’s piano partner in the Mongo Santamaria band, Rodgers Grant, and his own “What Do You Think of This World Now,” featuring sister Debra on vocals. The latter features such a prominent and unusual orchestration from Don Sebesky (similar to what he did in his “Bird And Bela in B Flat” several years later) that a co-composer credit would seem much in order here.

We’re on more familiar ground with the very solemn and meaningful reading of the traditional “Amazing Grace,” which was significant enough to factor on two CTI LP compilations back in the day, Fire Into Music and The Power, The Glory and The Music, and Ralph MacDonald and William Salter’s “Where Is The Love,” the huge 1972 hit from the Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway album, which features many players, including Laws, present on this album and also includes the “Come Ye Disconsolate” that Laws would cover on his 1975 album In The Beginning.

Laws also revisits two of his earlier compositions, “Let Her Go,” originally heard on his second album, Flute By-Laws (Atlantic, 1966) and the chilled-out funk of “No More,” originally voiced by Melba Moore on the 1968 Atlantic album Laws Cause, which also featured Ron Carter’s distinctive bass.

This leads to the remarkably exquisite sound that engineer Rudy Van Gelder captured on Morning Song. By the time of this recording, Van Gelder had mastered an utterly unique sound for CTI that was very different to the truly unique Blue Note, Prestige and Verve sounds the legendary engineer had crafted in years past. The sonority and balance are so gorgeously perfect here that it’s hard to imagine what a lesser engineer might have done with this quartet, two percussionists, seven horn players, 13 string players and (on two cuts) three vocalists. It might even be fair to say that Morning Star is the best sounding album CTI ever made.

Needless to say, Hubert Laws is inspired to play at the very peak of his abilities throughout Morning Song and there’s little doubt that any track off this record could be recognized very much as his own in any blindfold test. In addition to some of Bob James’s loosest and loveliest accompaniment and soloing throughout, the lyrical and like-minded Ron Carter is an asset to Laws’s singular performance, guiding with a subtlety that almost feels as if it is the bassist leading the charge.

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