The story is a good one. After many years producing jazz records for the Bethlehem label, ABC-Paramount, Verve and A&M, producer Creed Taylor set up CTI in 1970 to create a hybrid style that bridged fusion and acoustic jazz. It was melodic, despite the spirited soloing, and usually R&B oriented but it caught on in part because Taylor was resolute in combining jazz and commercialism. Critics recoiled; many records sold and careers were launched.
In establishing CTI (and its sister label, Kudu), one of Taylor’s smartest decisions was to employ musicians like Freddie Hubbard, Stanley Turrentine, Ron Carter, Chet Baker, Milt Jackson and Antonio Carlos Jobim, as well as hire young stars like saxophonist Grover Washington, Jr (who caught a break when he was asked to fill in when Hank Crawford skipped a recording session) and 20-something pianist Bob James who settled in as the label’s in-house arranger and keyboardist. Another was having his recording dates engineered by Rudy Van Gelder who created a signature CTI sound (accent on the bass drum, wide stereo soundstage, hyped up bass, strings, percussion and rhythm guitar). Finally, Taylor enlisted photographer Pete Turner whose iconic images graced those gorgeous gatefold record covers and it made CTI product stand out from everyone else.
Since more than 100 CTI recordings are out of print, here we are 40 years later and some smart folks at Sony Masterworks (kudos to producer, Richard Seidel) packaged a celebratory box set that mimics the original gatefold covers, includes a lavish 20 page biography and notes by Dan Ouellette and contains 39 tracks on 4 themed CDs, entitled “Straight Up,” “Deep Grooves/Big Hits,” “The Brazilian Connection,” and “Cool and Classic.” For obsessive listeners with audiophile rigs, all the material here is mastered from the original analog 2-track, ¼” tapes. No remixing has been done. Yay!
The compilation hits on all the signature tunes – Stanley Turrentine’s “Sugar” still sounds hot with its fluttery Freddie Hubbard solo and George Benson’s earthy guitar; the great singer Esther Phillip’s gets two tracks that show off her sassy soulfulness; Grover Washington, Jr.’s timeless “Mister Magic”; Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Stone Flower; Bob James “Westchester Lady” and Jim Hall’s incredible “Concierto De Aranjuez,” complete with its astounding Roland Hanna piano solo. Okay, so maybe Ron Burgundy gets a laugh as a jazz flute enthusiast but Hubert Laws produced legendary music for CTI and he gets four tracks (“Moment’s Notice” with a rapid-fire electric keyboard solo from James), a soulful rendition of James Taylor’s “Fire And Rain, a live version of “Pensitiva” from “The San Francisco Concert” and “Pavane” recorded in 1971. Many of the tracks CTI produced were lengthy, allowing artists to stretch out and a handful are included on these discs.
Before Sony purchased it, Columbia reissued various CTI releases on CD sporadically. Columbia’s relationship with Taylor did not end well and his input is nowhere to be found on this set and my guess is legal issues or corporate indifference may be holding up the bulk of the CTI product since only two waves of albums are scheduled for reissue. Some are already out and others are coming in January 2011. Please, sir, can I have some more? One final awesome fact: bassist Ron Carter played on more CTI releases than any other musician (look for his “All Blues” album in the second wave).
As part of the CTI launch, the two-disc release of the complete “The California Concert: The Hollywood Palladium” recorded on July 18, 1971 is an impressive reissue. It doubles the content of the original 5-song LP and adds new tracks that have never been heard before. With a line-up that includes Freddie Hubbard, Hubert Laws, George Benson, Hank Crawford, Stanley Turrentine, Johnny Hammond, Ron Carter, Billy Cobham and Airto Moreira, this is a dream-come-true release for jazz fans. The sound quality is superb and the music is certifiably classic. (Disc One: 5 tracks; 77:53 minutes / Disc Two: 5 tracks: 76:08 minutes)
For the most exhaustive overview of CTI releases, visit Doug Payne's site: http://www.dougpayne.com/cti.htm
Labels: Bob James, Creed Taylor, CTI, Freddie Hubbard, Grover Washington, Hubert Laws, Jr, Stanley Turrentine