Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Kudu albums reissued today on CD in the USA

Sony Masterworks Jazz decided to conclude the celebration series of the 40th Anniversary of Creed Taylor's CTI Records with the release of four albums from CTI's subsidiary label Kudu, created by Taylor in 1971. Due out today, October 4, in the U.S. market 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." Each 40th Anniversary Edition is packaged in a soft-pack sleeve that replicates the iconic cover design.

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.

“With an unmistakable blues wail, full of emotion and poignancy, altoist Hank Crawford bridges the gap between that tradition and that of jazz more completely than any other living horn player,” writes the renowned fusion historian Thom Jurek in All Music Guide (Crawford passed away in 2009). Taking its title from Stevie Wonder’s timeless hit, "Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing" features artists emerging from their years as straight-ahead jazz practitioners. Hank Crawford and crew create their own special mix of funk and soul and apply it to popular hits as well as original compositions with a jazz fusion bent. Now, "Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing" becomes available on CD for the first time in this planet.

Crawford's "Wildflower" had included a delighful take on Stevie Wonder's "You've Got It Bad Girl" which received a lot of radio airplay. This explains why Creed Taylor suggested Hank and Bob James to work on new scores for 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 funky 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. With no latin tinge. The second Wonder tune was his classic ballad "All In Love Is Fair," but played in an unpreditcable up-tempo r&b punch.

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" (a lush ballad), the funky jam "Groove Junction" and the straight-ahead tune "Sho Is Funky," the latter co-written with Bob James and the only track with Ron Carter on bass. 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.While often compared to Nina Simone, Esther Phillips’ idiosyncratic vocal style and her ability to sing in a wide range of styles from blues and jazz to straight-up pop and disco, established her as a unique talent. The inventive arrangements heard on "Performance" feature a backup band consisting of a veritable who’s who of ‘70s jazz artists including Bob James, Richard Tee, Gary King, Hubert Laws, Michael Brecker, Bernard Purdie, Steve Gadd and Ralph MacDonald. Edgier than some of her other CTI/Kudu releases, "Performance" shows Phillips at her most soulful and at the peak of her vocal powers. Available for the first time on CD in the USA, "Performance" includes, as a bonus track, “Mr. Bojangles” (previously released only on a CD compilation produced by Didier Deutsch in 1990, "The Best of Esther Phillips.")

"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. Btw, the arrangers (Ellis, King and Don Sebesky) are uncredited on this CD reissue, due to a mistake of the uncredited (ir)responsible for adapting the original LP artwork to CD format. Btw 2: oddly, all these Kudu albums, originally released in single-pocket sleeves, now reappear on CD in gatefold covers!

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."The title of organist Johnny Hammond’s second CTI/Kudu outing is a dead giveaway. Combining the names of The Rolling Stones’ classic “Wild Horses” and Aretha Franklin’s “Rock Steady” gives a good glimpse into the eclectic nature of this release even before the first notes of the recording are heard. Hammond and an incomparable band of sidemen (including Grover Washingtion, Jr., Ron Carter and Billy Cobham among many others) take on standards from the pop world as well as pop-based Broadway show tunes “Who is Sylvia” from Galt MacDermot’s "Two Gentleman of Verona," and “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” from "Jesus Christ Superstar," all with a jazz/soul/funk groove that is as unique as it is unmistakable.

"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 released here in the USA. At my invitation, CTI's top historian Doug Payne provided a fantastic set of liner notes (for the Japanese reissues), which can be found here: http://www.dougpayne.com/kunotes2.htm

"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!)

“The doctor of groove,” as Lonnie Smith refers to himself, is most definitely in session on Mama Wailer, Smith’s only CTI release. While known as a master of the Hammond B-3 organ, the title track features Smith on clavinet. A distinct departure from the fat sound of the B-3, Smith manages to make this electronic keyboard lay down a strong feeling of urban funk. Half of the album is made up of original compositions – the title track and “Hola Muneca” – the other half covers tracks popular from the time of the recording sessions - Carole King’s “You’ve Got a Friend” and Sly and The Family Stone’s “Stand.” Several of the usual suspects from the CTI stable of sidemen - Grover Washington, Jr., Billy Cobham and Airto Moreira – make an appearance on some or all of the tracks.
Sony kicked off the 40th anniversary celebration with the release of "CTI Records: The Cool Revolution," a deluxe 4-CD multi-artist box set retrospective in 2010. Receiving rave reviews The Associated Press dubbed it “…the most comprehensive anthology to date” and NPR said it was “… as striking a portrait of the Jazz World in the ‘70s as you’ll find anywhere.” Also released in Fall 2010 was the double-CD restoration of "California Concert: The Hollywood Palladium" (1971) which included 90-minutes of music rarely heard and never before available. It is the most complete version of the historic Hollywood Palladium all-star concert recorded July 18, 1971. It doubles the content of the original five-song LP release with five additional tracks - three of them previously unreleased - and restores the original concert sequence for the first time. Creed Taylor hand-picked a dream team of CTI artists for the occasion: Freddie Hubbard, Hubert Laws, Hank Crawford, Stanley Turrentine, George Benson, Johnny Hammond, Ron Carter, Billy Cobham and Airto Moreira.The celebration also included reissues of 24 classic CTI albums: "She Was Too Good To Me" by Chet Baker, "God Bless the Child" by Kenny Burrell, Freddie Hubbard's "Red Clay," "First Light" and "Straight Life," "Stone Flower" by Antonio Carlos Jobim, Hubert Laws' "Morning Star" (first time on CD anywhere in the world) and "In The Beginning", Stanley Turrentine’s "Sugar" and "Salt Song," George Benson's "White Rabbit," "Body Talk" and "Beyond The Blue Horizon," "All Blues" by Ron Carter (first time on CD in the U.S.), "Prelude" by Deodato, "Pure Desmond" by Paul Desmond, "Concierto" by Jim Hall, Milt Jackson’s "Sunflower" and Don Sebesky's monumental masterpiece "Giant Box."

Four more albums were reissued on CD for the first time here in the U.S. last August: Airto's fusion classic "Fingers" (his historic first collaboration with genius keyboardist-composer-arranger Hugo Fattoruso), Jackie & Roy's "A Wilder Alias" (featuring Joe Farrell, Harvie Swartz & Steve Gadd), Randy Weston's superb big-band date "Blue Moses" (arranged by Don Sebesky with Freddie Hubbard, Hubert Laws & Grover Washington, Jr. as guest soloists plus Ron Carter, Billy Cobham & Airto Moreira on the rhythm section), and Joe Farrell's "Outback" (with Chick Corea, Buster Williams, Elvin Jones & Airto.) All recorded at Van Gelder Studios, with Pete Turner's cover photos and Bob Ciano's artwork.In addition, Sony also released the following 180-gram vinyl LP reissues of 4 classic CTI albums using the original gatefold sleeve designs accompanied with digital download cards: Hubbard's "Red Clay," Turrentine’s "Sugar," Benson's "White Rabbit" and Deodato's "Prelude."

In the 1970s, CTI, its music, its style and its discriminating quality transformed contemporary jazz. The roster worked almost like a repertory company, in which great musicians took turns in the spotlight and accompanying each other. The albums they and their colleagues created set new standards in their look as well as their sound. “[Creed Taylor’s] plan was ingeniously simple, yet famously maverick: record top-tier musicians, keeping their artistic integrity intact while also making their art palatable to the people. CTI thus achieved that rare balance of jazz and commercialism,” writes Dan Ouellette in the liner notes. CTI surpassed the majors and fellow indies to be named the #1 Jazz Label of 1974 by Billboard. The immediate success of CTI’s recordings has echoed across the decades in a profound influence on jazz, pop, R&B and hip-hop.

For more information on these releases, please visit www.CTIMasterworks.com

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