Stanley Turrentine: Impressions

If you had compiled a list of tunes you might expect Stanley Turrentine to record, John Coltrane's "Impressions" would be far from the top. Yet here was Mr. T, pioneer purveyor of soul jazz and funk, interpreting Trane's classic modal composition for the entire 15:30 of side 2 of his chart-making Sugar LP. Whoever's brainstorm it was, the idea worked brilliantly, and "Impressions" reminded everyone of Turrentine's serious ability as a straight ahead player.

None of Coltrane's multiphonics or squalling are to be found during Turrentine's less-than-turbulent "Impressions," but Mr. T is forcefully expressive with his biting, broad tone and forthright emotional drive. His solo is funkier and more spacious--it certainly breathes more than Coltrane's, thanks in part to the stimulating rhythmic foundation provided by Carter, Kaye, and Landrum. Turrentine does play some surprisingly contorted arpeggios, but relies mostly on bluesy phrases, riffs, and shouts, as well as a cleverly placed quote from "It Ain't Necessarily So." Both Cornell's comping and flowing improvisation on organ are first-rate. Hubbard's solo, tentative at first, hits high gear quickly thanks to some trademark "sheets of sound" tremolos. Benson's commanding solo is the most restlessly searching, especially after the horns' transfixing vamp (a recurring feature of this arrangement) propels the guitarist to develop even more abstract ideas. Turrentine's vivacious out-chorus is just gathering steam when victimized by an abrupt fade-out.

March 31, 2009 · 0 comments

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Joe Farrell: Song of the Wind

The rest of the ensemble used on Joe Farrell Quartet, which included John McLaughlin, Jack DeJohnette and Dave Holland, sat on the sidelines for this sublime Chick Corea and Joe Farrell duet treatment of Corea's "Song of the Wind." Corea's melody is a tender trip. His lush piano playing is laden with lullaby-like arpeggios that evoke the more introspective moments of childhood wonder. Farrell plays a superb soprano saxophone that continually circles Corea's thoughts. The tune's midsection devolves into some brief free jazz tastefully expressed. Upon a return to normalcy, Farrell is now on flute. The two musicians enjoy an empathic interplay that reeks of telepathy. Farrell returns to saxophone to resolve the piece. "Song of the Wind" is a wonderful performance worthy of being the title cut of any great jazz album. In fact, four years later in a strange marketing move, Joe Farrell Quartet was reissued by CTI under the new name Song of the Wind.

March 17, 2009 · 0 comments

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Freddie Hubbard: Cold Turkey

Beatles songs have always been favorites of jazz musicians to cover, but not many tunes from the Fab Four's individual solo albums have received the jazz treatment. Freddie Hubbard puts a nice twist on this John Lennon opus from the Plastic Ono Band. The introduction proves cryptic when compared to the funkiness of the song. Of particular interest on this track is Joe Henderson's solo, which grabs the beat and rides it for the duration of his solo. Herbie Hancock puts his wizardry into full execution as well with tasteful, subtle chords and different chromatic patterns. I would like to think that John Lennon dug this!

February 07, 2009 · 0 comments

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Freddie Hubbard: The Intrepid Fox

Though this album is known for its funky, groove-laden title track, the other songs deserve just as much attention and praise. The late great Freddie Hubbard (R.I.P.) blazed his trail through the 1960s, leaving the jazz world with some of the best trumpeting ever recorded. On this song, he extends that sound over Lenny White's infectious, driving groove. I could definitely picture this accompanying a chase sequence in a movie; but don't get me wrong, the playing is topnotch. It's a shame that some of Hubbard's later material didn't capture the same kind of energy as his '60s and early '70s material. But nonetheless, this recording stands as an amazing testament to one of jazz's greatest trumpeters.

February 07, 2009 · 0 comments

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CTI All-Stars: Red Clay

While too much of CTI's output is proto-Smooth Jazz, the listenable portion of the discography is chockfull of bluesy funk performed at the highest level. With this lineup, the album was bound to be a classic. On "Red Clay," Freddie Hubbard shows off his jaw-dropping technique during a chopsy trumpet workout (with his ubiquitous touch of narcissism), while the ever-soulful Stanley Turrentine stays closer to the blues.

Five years prior to singing himself to pop stardom via "This Masquerade," it was George Benson's phenomenal guitar playing that was turning heads. After listening to his blistering choruses here, you may find yourself wondering if there was anything this man couldn't do with six strings. Carter's unaccompanied bass solo is a bit of a buzz killer considering the energy generated by the previous three soloists and the intense drum work of Billy Cobham, but overall the CTI All-Stars assure us that jazz was indeed a living and breathing entity in the 1970s. The huge, lively crowd audible on this recording proves that when packaged appropriately, jazz was still commercially viable and possibly more accessible than ever.

January 16, 2009 · 0 comments

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George Benson: Octane

This recording lacks synergy due to the fact that live and studio performances were merged to create it. There are imperfections, such as the intonation between guitar and bass. But Benson still plays like he has something to prove, and the inclusion of a Hubert Laws flute solo does not put out the fire despite the coolness of that instrument. Benson delivers the goods, and his performance will whet classicists' appetites for original, unaltered tapes that may never see the light of day. Even so, this recording stands as proof of Benson's instrumental prowess.

October 23, 2008 · 0 comments

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George Benson: Take Five

Some tuning discrepancies exist here between guitar and bass, but it doesn't matter much, because the track is energetic and Benson's playing has obviously reached its peak. The flaws could be due to the track's genesis, as the original rhythm section was replaced in the studio by Will Lee and Steve Gadd in a last-ditch attempt by CTI to generate sales. Their presence ignited a spark that led to major chart success, and this pre-pop stardom cover version, recorded live at Carnegie Hall, is a clear indication of Benson's mass appeal and strengths as a top concert draw.

October 23, 2008 · 0 comments

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George Benson: Plum

This track contains some of the most exciting and articulate jazz guitar phrasing I’ve ever heard. On his original composition, chockfull of moving chords, George shows us his artistic nature by taking liberties with how he chooses to build the track to create a total performance and presentation.

He uses the intro—an easy, loping, 2-chord vamp—as a precursor, soloing sparsely as a suggestion of where he’ll be heading later on. In this AABA tune he states the A section melody only once and then proceeds to improvise through the entire remainder of the form, repeating an additional A section melody again as a kind of recap. I’m fortunate to know the actual melody of the complete tune from having worked with Stanley Turrentine (George’s label-mate on CTI) who, many years later, had this tune in his repertoire. However, prior to that experience I had no clue that there was a B section melody! Regardless, this track proceeds from one event to another so seamlessly and is so perfectly spellbinding that I never questioned it. And actually, the A section melody is a complete musical statement unto itself.

Benson is now at the top of his game as a guitarist and jazz musician and can seemingly do whatever he pleases. He’s making all the right moves here. His solo over the second A, B, and final A sections of the melody form transcends the guitar and is in the realm of the highest level in jazz. The rhythmic, melodic and harmonic freedom and command with which he navigates these progressions, coupled with his technical mastery of his instrument, should place him among the pantheon of the greatest jazz musicians of all time—the same group of musicians that I use as a reference point to make this statement (which may seem bold to some). After he devours the chord changes on the form, he breaks to restate the A melody again (a palate cleanser), before indulging in the 2-chord vamp like a vacationer at a cruise ship dessert bar. The funk, blues and jazz smorgasbord of ideas and technique seems never-ending as the track fades.

October 20, 2008 · 0 comments

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George Benson: The Gentle Rain

From my perspective, this tune represents a period of exploitation, experimentation and growth for George Benson during his days at CTI Records (1971-1976). This jazz-bossa standard is treated with more rhythmic freedom and at times suggests more urban, New York-style Latin rhythms and double-time backbeat, thanks to Jack DeJohnette’s polyrhythms. Benson uses this active backdrop as a springboard for his own rhythmically aggressive playing on the solo vamp. I also like how he employs Ron Carter on cello to create sound-painted melodies and smears as a supplement to the organ-drums-percussion rhythm section. George even looks to the cello for melodic interaction as he begins his solo.

These abstractions create a mood that’s a perfect foil for what could possibly be go-nowhere II-chord-to-V-chord blowing. George uses his fierce technique to build this solo to a frenzy, while organically using his favorite elements—the blues, a probing harmonic awareness to inform his single-line ideas, block chords, a keen melodic and rhythmic sense, and controlled abandon. He takes chances here that are only available to those who know and trust that elusive musical spirit. Whether it’s by leaps, steps or spins, lulls, cries or shouts, his ideas are always delivered with grace and are musically sound and emotionally moving.

October 20, 2008 · 0 comments

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Freddie Hubbard: Red Clay

This album was a new direction for Freddie Hubbard. It starts with a rubato section where once again Freddie is his Nogento ("Stanky") self. Then into a great tune with (for the genre) a quite musical and developed solo; funky but he also takes it out a bit—this was the first time I had heard him do that ascending lip trill thing. Nice arrangement with backgrounds behind the soloists. Joe Henderson also plays some great stuff. My buddies and I were excited when this come out, because we played frequently with Lenny White at jam sessions, and it felt to us like he had really ‘made it’ with this release.

April 11, 2008 · 1 comment

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Jim Hall: Concierto de Aranjuez

Jim Hall’s “Concierto de Aranjuez” unites three of the purest melodists in jazz in Baker, Desmond, and the guitarist himself. While sharing the lead, all choose to forgo extra frills and ornamentation to focus on what matters the most—conveying the magnificence of the pristine melody. Carter and Gadd introduce a delicate funk groove on which Hall and Hanna paint a sensuous and ethereal harmonic canvas. Given ample improvisational space, the soloists complement each other well, utilizing a “less-is-more” approach within their improvisations and creating many moments of subdued, passionate musical poetry. Moody and rich, this is one of the finest recordings in the CTI catalog.

November 16, 2007 · 3 comments

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Milt Jackson (featuring Freddie Hubbard): People Make the World Go ‘Round

Creed Taylor’s CTI label is often given the dubious distinction of spawning Smooth Jazz in the 1970s with its sometimes overbearing studio production and excessively lush orchestrations. Regardless, the label signed jazz’s brightest stars to its roster and generated some of the finest jazz-funk tracks ever recorded. CTI struck a balance between the creative and the marketable, presenting highly artistic and sophisticated jazz with sexy, slick commercial appeal. Freddie Hubbard, one of CTI’s most recorded stars, is at his bluesiest on this earthy, funky cut. The groove is infectious and listeners will find themselves inspired for repeated listenings.

October 24, 2007 · 2 comments

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Freddie Hubbard: Red Clay (1970)

Jazz purists prefer to remember Hubbard for his Art Blakey sideman days or his Blue Note performances, but his work for Creed Taylor’s CTI label has held up well with the passing years. “Red Clay” finds Hubbard testing the waters of the jazz-rock fusion style, so popular in the early 1970s. The trumpeter never enjoyed the crossover success of Herbie Hancock (who joins on electric piano here), but his fiery trumpet stylings made him a natural for the jazz-rock genre. The band is top-notch, the groove is irresistible, and Hubbard, 31 years old when he made this date, was at the peak of his powers.

October 24, 2007 · 0 comments

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