Monday, September 5, 2011

Kudu albums to be reissued on CD next month

Sony Masterworks Jazz decided to continue the celebration series of the 4oth Anniversary of Creed Taylor's CTI Records with the release of four albums from CTI's subsidiary label Kudu. Due out in the U.S. on October 4 are Hank Crawford's "Don't You Worry 'Bout A Thing" (on its first CD reissue ever anywhere in the world!) and three other titles previously reissued on CD only in Japan: Esther Phillips' "Performance," Johnny Hammond's "Wild Horses Rock Steady" and Lonnie Smith's "Mama Wailer."

All albums were produced by Creed Taylor & engineered by Rudy Van Gelder at his legendary Van Gelder Studios in Englewood (New Jersey), with artwork by Bob Ciano featuring cover pics by such photographers as Alen MacWeeney, William Cadge & Duane Michals, with Pierre Le-Tan signing the painting used on Crawford's item. Recorded in June 1974 as the fourth of eight albums that alto sax master Hank Crawford would record as a leader for Kudu, between 1971 and 1978, "Don't You Worry Bout A Thing" represented his third & last studio association with Bob James, who had provided all the arrangements for the previous "Wildflower" (1973) as well as some basic charts for "We Got A Good Thing Going" (1972), to which Don Sebesky had added string arrangements.

"Wildflower" had included a delighful take on Stevie Wonder's "You've Got It Bad Girl" which received a lot of airplay. This explains why Creed Taylor suggested Hank to cover two other tracks by Stevie, both from the groundbreaking "Innervisions" LP for Motown. One of those songs, the latin-tinged "Don't You Worry Bout A Thing" received a frenetic arrangement by Bob James, who also took care of the Fender Rhodes electric piano, the Hohner clavinet and the Arp Pro Soloist synth, with Gary King on electric bass and Bernard Purdie on drums. The second Wonder tune is his classic ballad "All In Love Is Fair."

The sessions included contributions by such other great players as Idris Muhammad, Richard Tee, Ron Carter, Ralph MacDonald and Hugh McCracken, plus the members of the horn (Randy Brecker, Jon Faddis, Alan Rubin, Dave Taylor, Jerry Dodgion, Joe Farrell) and string sections, with Harry Lookofsky as concertmaster. Crawford provided three originals: "Jana," "Groove Junction" and "Sho Is Funky," the latter co-written with Bob James. All subsequent Kudu albums by Crawford were done in collaboration with arranger David Matthews, who would replace James and Sebesky as CTI's in-house maestro after the mid 70s. "Performance," cut in May 1974 and arranged-conducted by Alfred "Pee Wee" Ellis, was the fourth of seven Esther Phillips' projects for Kudu. In the 90s, Esther's highly distinctive reading of Gene McDaniels' "Disposable Society" (the only track arranged by the extremely underrated bassist Gary King) became a dancefloor hit in the acid-jazz scene, with the help of Michael Brecker, Bob James, Ralph MacDonald and, mainly, Steve Gadd's breakbeats.

Other players on the album: Richard Wyands, Gordon Edwards, Bernard Purdie, guitarists Joe Sholle, Eric Weissberg, Richie Resnicoff & Charlie Brown, plus an usual all-star team in the horn section (Hubert Laws, Marvin Stamm, Urbie Green, Jon Faddis, Pepper Adams and Jerry Dodgion). Patti Austin, Lani Groves and Denise Williams did backing vocals on some tunes like Allen Toussaint's title track. And Don Sebesky added strings to a sweet version of Dr. John's "Such A Night," but I prefer the raw approach to Isaac Hayes' "Can't Trust Your Neighbor With Your Baby.""Wild Horses Rock Steady", recorded @ Van Gelder in October-November 1971, was Johnny Hammond's second of his five albums for Creed Taylor (counting the four on Kudu and "Gambler's Life," produced by Larry Mizell for Salvation, another CTI subsidiary). Back in 2001, I had the honor to produce the first CD reissue ever of "Wild Horses..." released in Japan on the "Kudu Best 12" series I supervised. Since the sales were very good, I was authorized to reissue it once again in 2007 on the "I Love Kudu" series.

I also wrote the liner notes, from which the comments below were taken:
Johnny Hammond’s "Breakout," a typical unpretentious soul-jazz session recorded on June 1971, made history as the first album released by the Kudu label, as well as the session which introduced Grover Washington, Jr. to Creed Taylor. Four months later, Grover once again was recruited as one of the main soloists for Hammond’s second album for Kudu, "Wild Horses Rock Steady," a more ambitious project. Creed wanted it to be a crossover album, with strings and horns sections, and full of jazz stars acting as sidemen.

Its smart title (for sure chosen by Creed) mixes the names of two important tracks, then pop hits. "Wild Horses," a Mick Jagger/Keith Richards tune, appeared on Rolling Stones’ "Sticky Fingers," while "Rock Steady," composed by Aretha Franklin, was on her "Young, Gifted & Black" LP, also from 71, on which Eric Gale and Bernard Purdie, two of Hammond’s sidemen, also took part.

The opening tune, "Rock Steady," feature solos by Hammond, Eric Gale (using the wah-wah pedal) and Grover, with Ron Carter on electric bass and Bernard Purdie doing those incredible funky drum breaks.

Actually, the album repertoire is irreprehensible. Another highlight, "Who is Sylvia?," is a Galt MacDermot song for a stage play, "The Two Gentleman of Verona." Hammond plays the lyrical melody and the first solo on the electric piano. During Grover’s burning tenor solo, he quotes Eleanor Rigby near the end, and then Johnny starts an explosive second solo, this time on the organ. Bob James supplies a subtle string arrangement, with a very soft bossa beat provided by Billy Cobham on drums and Ron Carter on acoustic bass. On both "Rock Steady" and "Who is Sylvia?" Airto uses a typical Brazilian instrument called caxixi (there’s also a reco-reco on McDermot's song) while Omar Clay plays tambourine.

George Benson is the acid guitar soloist on a funky version of "I Don’t Know How To Love Him," one of the main themes written by Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice for the rock opera, "Jesus Christ Superstar." Both Bob Mann and Melvin Sparks play the rhythm guitar parts. Bob James adds strings (actually, only eight violins – no violas or cellos!) and horns (with muted trumpets and trombones near the end of the track) in a lush orchestration, with Airto playing congas and bells.

Cat Stevens’ "Peace Train" (originally from Stevens’ album "Teaser & The Firecat") gets a jazzy treatment, with Ron sublime in a walking bass line. Bob once again uses the brass section, opening the solo spot to the underrated late tenorist Harold Vick, honored by Sonny Rollins in a tune ("Did you see Harold Vick?") from his album, "This Is What I Do."

Probably the most surprising song on the album, "It’s Impossible" was originally written by Mexican composer Armando Manzanero as a romantic bolero. It is really almost impossible to believe how superbly Johnny Hammond recreates this song, transforming it in a highly-energized jazz vehicle played in a very fast tempo, including some of the best solos ever recorded by both Hammond and Grover, stimulated by an intoxicating beat that Cobham provides. Not even Bob James’ mellow strings diminish the tremendous impact of such a fantastic performance.

I also had the honor to supervise the 2001 and 2007 Japanese CD reissues of Lonnie Smith's "Mama Wailer," now finally scheduled for domestic release here in the U.S. next month. At my invitation, CTI's top historian Doug Payne provided a fantastic set of liner notes, which can be found here:

"If Lonnie Smith considers himself “the doctor of groove,” then Mama Wailer is certainly his doctoral thesis. This 1971 record was only the second of Creed Taylor’s Kudu productions and, surprisingly, the only Kudu or CTI session Lonnie Smith ever participated in. But the record has become a jazz-funk classic; one of the rarest of rare grooves and still highly sought after by young dancers and DJs alike," Payne stated. "All in all, it’s a superb collection of long, exploratory ideas on the nature of groove and the real “turning point” in Lonnie Smith’s musical thinking."

Cut on July 14 and 15, 1971, "Mama Wailer" includes stunning versions of features Sly Stone's "Stand" and Carole King's "I Fell The Earth Move," and a pair of groovy laid-back originals, featuring some long forgotten musicians such as trumpeter Danny Moore, saxophonists Marvin Cabell & Dave Hubbard, guitarists Robert Lowe & George Davis, and percussionists William King & Richard Pratt, alongside celebrated stars like Ron Carter, Chuck Rainey, Billy Cobham, Airto Moreira, Jimmy Ponder and Grover Washington, Jr. (heard not only on sax, but also on flute!)

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