Monday, November 14, 2011

CD Reissue of the Week - "Johnny Hammond: Wild Horses Rock Steady"

CD Reissue of the Week
Johnny Hammond: "Wild Horses Rock Steady" (Kudu/Sony Masterworks) 1972/2011

Produced by Creed Taylor
Recorded & Mixed by Rudy Van Gelder @ Van Gelder Studio, NJ in October-November, 1971
Photos: William Cadge
Album Design: Bob Ciano

Arranged & Conducted by Bob James
Featuring: Ron Carter, Bernard Purdie, Billy Cobham, Airto Moreira, Omar Clay, Eric Gale, Bob Mann, George Benson, Melvin Sparks, Harold Vick, Grover Washington, Jr. et al
Reissue Producer: Richard Seidel
Mastered by Mark Wilder & Maria Triana @ Battery Studios, NYC

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.

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