Thursday, April 30, 2009

Creed Taylor Interviewed

Read Marc Myers's in-depth and insightful interview with Creed Taylor at JazzWax, without a doubt one of the most remarkably thorough and historic evaluations of Creed Taylor's musical legacy that the famed produced and CTI founder has ever participated in.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

David Matthews on CTI

While Don Sebesky often receives the credit - or the blame - for "the CTI sound," he was not the only arranger who shaped that sound which has come to dominate not only 1970s jazz, but that noise that is now highly revered among crate diggers, samplers, DJs and fans of the last great wave jazz has experienced.

Bob James and Joe Beck, too, have arranged their share of CTI classics. But it is David Matthews who came to define the last half of CTI's glory years, 1970-1978. Beginning in 1975, after a stint behind James Brown, Matthews was brought to CTI and almost immediately began to make a noticeable impact.

David Matthews was born on March 4, 1942, in Sonora, Kentucky, but grew up in several different places in Kentucky, mostly in and around Louisville. As a child, he started playing trumpet and developed an interest in jazz during his teens. He attended The College Conservatory of Music, which is now part of the University of Cincinnati, and received a Bachelor's degree in composition.

After a stint playing military bases in Europe, Matthews established himself in Cincinnati, where he eventually met James Brown, who offered Matthews his first recording gig, something "underground" (or "psychedelic"), which became known as The Grodeck Whipperjenny - the title was supposed to sound meaningfully meaningless.

Matthews went on to replace Pee Wee Ellis (who also went onto to work at CTI) as Brown's arranger and musical director until 1975. During this time, Matthews also arranged albums for Buddy Rich, Mark Murphy, O'Donell Levy, Blue Mitchell and David Sanborn.

Creed Taylor brought David Matthews, who is now often confused with another popular musician of the same name, to CTI in 1975. There, he crafted a notable body of work that probably reflects the era's musical flavors (disco, etc.) more than the work his predecessors provided for the label.

Even though no slur is intended by this author, that factor probably dates more of Matthews' work for CTI than the other arrangers' who crafted charts for CTI. But there's no doubt that this is exactly what Creed Taylor wanted: the musical and saleable funk Matthews brought to the James Brown band. Indeed, much of Matthews' best work successfully combines a love of jazz with an ability to craft a good groove.

After leaving CTI in 1978, when the label was undergoing burdensome financial troubles that would more or less finish it, Matthews went onto record a slew of records for mostly Japanese labels under a variety of guises including Japan's number one selling jazz group, the Manhattan Jazz Quintet, the Manhattan Jazz Orchestra, Electric Birds, The First Calls, David Matthews Orchestra, N.Y. Friends and, of course, those under his own name.

These are David Matthews' CTI masterpieces, which live on among his greatest all-time work.

Good King Bad by George Benson: My introduction to David Matthews, and also one of George Benson's finest albums, bar none, if for no other reason than the mesmerizing take on Vince Guaraldi's "Cast Your Fate To The Wind." Jazz just doesn't get better than this, with signature and utterly memorable solos from both Benson and flautist Joe Farrell. Two strong Matthews compositions are featured here, "One Rock Don't Make No Boulder" and "Siberian Workout." Philip Namanworth's "Em" - which comes out of a band called the Electro-Harmonix Work Band (that includes someone named Mike Matthews…a relation?), is another high point. So is Matthews' arrangement of Eugene McDaniels's "Shell of a Man." With no slight intended toward Don Sebesky, Claus Ogerman or Quincy Jones, no other arranger has ever inspired Benson to this high level of creativity. Truly an unequivocal masterpiece, Good King Bad seems to represent all that George Benson stands for as a musician - and all that Matthews can do as a musical conceptualist. Also just as good is the album full of outtakes from these sessions that Creed Taylor issued in 1983 as Pacific Fire (never on CD), which features an alternative take of "Em." He thought it was a mistake. I think it's all just as brilliant as Good King Bad.

Benson & Farrell by George Benson and Joe Farrell: This beautiful, near-perfect pairing of guitarist George Benson, in his last CTI recording, and flautist Joe Farrell, is sumptuous fusion jazz at its very best. Benson and Farrell are matched so perfectly here, it’s a wonder it didn't happen sooner - or more frequently (despite their beautiful collaborations on Benson's previous Good King Bad). Matthews wrote five of the six songs, including the bracing "Camel Hump" (with Farrell adding a soprano solo) and an above-average arrangement of "Old Devil Moon," on this regrettably forgotten album. All are worth hearing. But "Flute Song," which can also be heard in a slightly different Matthews arrangement on Art Farmer's 1977 CTI album Something You Got, is pure magic. A keeper.

Tico Rico by Hank Crawford: Hank Crawford recorded many albums for the Atlantic, Kudu and Milestone labels during his career, but very few on any label that had more than one or two great tunes. This is one that is terrific from start to finish, with Crawford in perfectly bluesy and swinging form, driven by Matthews's superb, yet simplified, electrifying charts. If a soloist is only as good as his arranger, then Matthews is probably the best Crawford ever had (and Crawford was the guy who arranged for Ray Charles!). Tico Rico - which has never been issued on CD - is undoubtedly their best work together. There is a high quotient of Matthews originals here, all quite good too: "Tico Rico," "Lady Soul," the late-night blues of "Lament" and the grooving drive of "Funky Rooster." Eric Gale, a perfect compliment to many a Hank Crawford record, solos magnificently on the title track, the sensational take on the Beatles' "I've Just Seen A Face," "Lament," "Funky Rooster" and pretty much throughout the rest of the record. Cliff Carter is on keyboards here, but sounds an awful like Gale's Stuff-mate Richard Tee. Flautist Jeremy Steig is featured on the title track and the invigoratingly funky, yet too-silly titled "Funky Rooster" (a follow-up to the pair's earlier "Funky Pigeon," but probably meant to have some corollary with the era's "Disco Duck"). Matthews and Crawford deliver two terrific covers here, a lovely reggae take on The Beatles' "I've Just Seen A Face," which must have seemed an odd choice to cover in 1977, and one of the least corny takes of "Teach Me Tonight" ever heard. Matthews provides an alluring, romantic underscore that Crawford simply sets alight. A fine achievement for both Hank Crawford and David Matthews.

Dune by David Matthews: This 1977 album is, perhaps, Matthews's most singular statement of artistic greatness. You probably don't know anything about it because of producer Creed Taylor's insistence to tie the album to Frank Herbert's 1965 book Dune (which hadn't been turned into a film until 1984) - using Star Wars-styled typography. Matthews objected. But Taylor insisted. And Herbert, who died in 1986, sued this brilliant musical journey right out of existence - despite the music having absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with Herbert's work other than some obscure title cops. Dune, though, is magisterial; undoubtedly one of composer, arranger and producer David Matthews' very best. Side one is a tremendously exciting Matthews suite featuring excellent turns by star soloists such as Grover Washington, Jr. (the oft sampled "Sandworms"), David Sanborn ("Song of the Bene Gesserit"), Hiram Bullock and Eric Gale. The original LP's second side features several space-related covers, all expertly, if not astoundingly, arranged by Matthews, the surprisingly sumptuous "Silent Running" (the 1972 movie theme by Peter Schickele, aka P.D.Q. Bach, and host of NPR's Schickele Mix), the odd-choice of Bowie's "Space Oddity" (featuring the negligible Googie Coppola on vocals and Matthews's remarkably beautiful string work, which must be heard to be believed) and two inevitable covers from John Williams' Star Wars, both of which were issued on 45 at the time - and both far more engaging than the huge Meco single of the time. An absolutely essential part of CTI's iconography and David Matthews' vast discography.

Senor Blues by Urbie Green: By this time, Urbie Green had recorded countless sessions, quite a few solo albums on the Command and Project 3 labels (including a 1974 album arranged by Claus Ogerman) and was Antonio Carlos Jobim's trombonist of choice (he's spectacularly subtle on all of Jobim's Creed Taylor productions on Verve, A&M and CTI). But by the time of his second and last CTI album, he remained unknown - even to hardcore jazz fans. Senor Blues should have changed all that. But tremendous as it is, it didn't. David Matthews provides sterling charts for Green, but sadly no originals. Whether guided by his artistic temperament or Taylor's command, Matthews was trying his hand at a large scale jazz sound that harked all the way back to the early 1960s dates Taylor helmed at Verve (check out Art Farmer's less successful Something You Got for additional evidence). By 1977, these sorts of things had completely gone away, sublimated by electrified fusion (at the major labels) or acoustic small group jazz (at the small labels). Green and Matthews concocted a menu that doesn't sound appetizing at first, but is scintillating upon listening, including jazz classics like Corea's "Captain Marvel," Mingus' "Ysabel's Table Dance," Silver's "Senor Blues" and recent pop covers of "You Are So Beautiful," "I'm In You" and a stunning take of Stevie Wonder's "I Wish" (featuring an early cameo by John Scofield), which is easily enjoyed over and over again. Grover Washington, Jr. is beautifully positioned throughout to compliment Green's munificent and mellifluous stylings. It's a shame that Senor Blues didn't make Urbie Green the star he deserves to be. This is a buried treasure in David Matthews' catalog as well.

Other CTI or Kudu albums featuring David Matthews as player, arranger or composer: Anything Goes (1975) by Ron Carter, I Hear A Symphony (1975) by Hank Crawford, House of the Rising Sun (1975) by Idris Muhammad, The Main Attraction (1976) by Grant Green, Shoogie Wanna Boogie (1976) by David Matthews with Whirlwind, End of A Rainbow (1976) by Patti Austin, Capricorn Princess (1976) by Esther Phillips, The Fox (1976) by Urbie Green (featuring Matthews' "Mertensia"), A Secret Place (1976) by Grover Washington, Jr., Hank Crawford's Back (1976) by Hank Crawford (featuring Matthews' "Funky Pigeon"), Turn This Mutha Out (1977) by Idris Muhammad (featuring Matthews' "Crab Apple," "Moon Hymn" and "Say What"), We Belong Together (1977) by John Blair, Firefly (1977) by Jeremy Steig, Something You Got (1977) by Art Farmer, the GREAT Autophsyiopsychic (1977) by Yusef Lateef (featuring Matthews' excellent "YL"), Boogie To The Top (1977) by Idris Muhammad, Baltimore (1978) by Nina Simone, the LOVELY Big Blues (1978) by Art Farmer and Jim Hall, Cajun Sunrise by Hank Crawford and, oddly, In My Life (1983) by Patti Austin.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Freddie Hubbard on Columbia

Wounded Bird Records has rescued many lost, forgotten or neglected LPs - mostly from the 1970s - by licensing them from the original issuers - who would never touch this mostly unprofitable music - for release on CD. Unlike the majors who own most of the music the label issues, Wounded Bird retains all of the album's original artwork, credits and track line ups. While the label doesn't add extras like unissued tracks, alternative takes, new liner notes or historical assessments, it does an exceedingly fine job of mastering the music from the original tapes - or superb sources - and rightly takes pride issuing the albums the way a collector would want the music on CD.

On June 9 - according to - Wounded Bird will release six of the eight albums Freddie Hubbard made for Columbia Records between 1974 and 1980 (1975's Gleam has never been issued on LP or CD outside of Japan and 1978's Super Blue was issued on CD in 2007 by the seemingly defunct Mosaic Contemporary label) and two Hubbard compilations on CTI that appeared while Hubbard was recording for the Columbia label. That last sentence should properly end in an exclamation point. It's worth exclaiming.

This surprising announcement is welcome news to those who appreciate the great music Hubbard did for the label, most of which was critically lambasted and snubbed by all but a few at the time. This period of Hubbard's career, perhaps the last of his great run of records, is often dismissed or reviled by many today. Some go as far as to say that Hubbard's Columbia period makes his CTI period sound good.

Not me. This was some of the first Hubbard I ever heard, as I began buying jazz albums at the time his Columbia albums were initially released, and some of the finest. One LP in particular, Windjammer (1976), my first Hubbard purchase (when I obsessed about collecting anything with Bob James's name on it) remains my favorite Hubbard album of all time, even though I concede that he made many better, more artistic albums.

Simply put, this period contains some spectacular music. Hubbard rarely sounded as good as he did on his Columbia albums. As a player, he was at the very top of his game and he sounded in good form throughout. He is firmly in charge of the proceedings.

Even when the music was turned over to such arrangers as Dale Oehler, Bob James, (oddly) Bert DeCoteaux or Claus Ogerman, it was clear that it was Hubbard's choice - not some puppet-master producer's decision. Hubbard also lent quite a few memorable originals to these albums, some of which stayed in his repertoire long after he left the label. Here's a brief run-down of what's in store for CD buyers who will finally get the chance to have Freddie Hubbard's Columbia music on CD.

High Energy (1974): Freddie Hubbard left CTI Records in 1973, having become a much bigger star than most jazz players could ever hope to be, to sign a million-dollar contract with Columbia Records, long the home of Hubbard's hero and fellow trumpeter Miles Davis. In addition to the money, Hubbard sought more control of his music than CTI allowed him, and the opportunity to record with his own band rather than the all-star studio assemblages CTI forced upon him. For his first Columbia album, High Energy (1974), Hubbard did use his own band, a quintet that featured George Cables on piano and Junior Cook on tenor sax (both were also heard on Hubbard's final CTI album, Keep Your Soul Together), plus a collective sweetening of L.A. studio musicians, arranged with surprisingly minimal impact by Dale Oehler. There are two strong Hubbard originals here ("Baraka Sasa" and the album's single, "Crisis"), two excellent Cables originals (the Hubbard-like "Camel Rise," also arranged by Oehler for Bobby Hutcherson's 1975 album Montara, and the slightly well-known "Ebony Moonbeams," which Hubbard also covered on his Japanese-only live LP, Gleam, and Cables also performed on his 1975 solo debut as well as with Hutcherson on the vibist's 1979 album Un Poco Loco) and two Stevie Wonder tunes ("Too High" and the little-known "Black Maybe"). While the arrangements are more minimal than even those that Don Sebesky provided Hubbard at CTI, the electronics quotient is a little higher than usual here with Ian Underwood adding Headhunters-like synth effects (ala Patrick Gleeson), Hubbard employing echo effects and Cables on electric piano throughout. While Hubbard sounds especially strong here, very much in his element, the album never really rises above a genuinely engaging listening experience. But, in praise of the thing, it is a genuinely engaging listening experience.

Liquid Love (1975): CTI provided Freddie Hubbard with several crossover opportunities, one of which, "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey" from 1971's First Light, even earned him a Grammy Award. But Liquid Love aims at some sort of crossover on Hubbard's own terms, something more of a "black music for black people" thing that Miles Davis wanted for On The Corner. This is the first of Hubbard's own albums that bears his own name as producer. Even the arrangements are from Hubbard or his pianist, George Cables. No orchestra here, but a lot of L.A. studio musicians are meant to either toughen up or soul-up the proceedings. The LP's odd programming finds the crossover material on side one - an odd-choice cover of Maria Muldaur's 1974 hit "Midnight at the Oasis" presages Miles's turn toward Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time" a decade later, Hubbard's blaxploitation-like "Put It In The Pocket" (the album's single release) and Cables's rather indistinct "Lost Dreams," which the pianist revived on a 1991 Steeplechase CD - and Hubbard's more obvious menu on side two: the almost R&B take of "Liquid Love," harking back to Hubbard's Atlantic period, Benny Golson's "Yesterday's Thoughts" and Hubbard's own "Kuntu." The thirteen-minute "Kuntu," which Hubbard recorded live the month before on his Japan-only album Gleam, is the album's centerpiece, with Hubbard electrifying his horn - still sounding like no one else but him! - and good, long solos from Carl Randall, Jr. (?) on sax and Buck Clark or Myuto (sic: Mayuto)Correa (?) on congas. People either love or hate the fishy illustration on the cover of Liquid Love. Famed designer Storm Thorgerson thinks it's one of the 100 best album covers of all time. I like it too - particularly the awesome typography - but it's unlike any other cover in Freddie Hubbard's discography, and maybe in the history of recorded sound.

Windjammer (1976):. Even in 1976, this record seemed surprising and, to many, hugely disappointing. Hubbard left the auspices of CTI Records in 1973 only to record his most CTI (or Kudu)-like record ever for Columbia in 1976. Turning arrangement, production and, in one case ("Touch Me Baby"), songwriting reins over to keyboardist Bob James, Hubbard seemed to sense that the jazz winds were blowing this way. So, as they say, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em (or as The Simpsons' Mayor Quimby would say, "If that is the way the winds are blowing, let no one say that I don't also blow"). James, who played live behind Hubbard as part of the CTI All Stars several years before and was still recording for CTI himself, was signed in 1975 by Columbia Records to provide A&R services for such acts as Paul Simon, Kenny Loggins, Neil Diamond and Maynard Ferguson. These projects were such huge successes that by 1977, Columbia offered James his own label and Tappan Zee was born. Windjammer was perhaps the least successful project either Hubbard or James had ever worked on. But not only does it serve as a template for the work James would do at Tappan Zee, it really has some terrifically exciting moments that are hugely memorable - at least when given half the chance. Backed by a typically huge group of New York City studio pros, including soloists Eric Gale, Hubert Laws and Michael Brecker (Patti Austin and Gwen Guthrie are among the vocalists), Hubbard seems at times to be sublimated by James's charts or the occasional vocals. This is particularly true on the album's daft single, the MacDonald/Salter feature "Rock Me Arms," and, to an extent, James's own "Touch Me Baby." The covers are worth hearing, particularly James's near brilliant arrangement of Gary Wright's "Dream Weaver." Throughout each passage of the song, James perfectly spices the groove with different keyboard effects that work wonders on the basic melody, aided in no small measure by the unmistakable syncopations of Steve Gadd (who also adds his unique zest to "Touch Me Baby"). Hubbard solos magnificently here, seemingly engaged in James's clever take on the song. James also rethinks Morris Albert's dreadful "Feelings" and Hubbard elevates it to a new level that makes you absolutely forget the drivel of the original (Albert's original always reminds me of Carol Burnett as Eunice performing it on "The Gong Show"). The two Hubbard pieces heard here don't rank high among his output but are solid features nonetheless, particularly the title track, which features great solos by Hubbard and Brecker (and an oddly overdubbed passage by James). Both "Windjammer" and "Neo Terra (New Land)" - which, I believe, has been the only song up until now to find its way onto CD - feature Hubbard's keyboardist of the time, George Cables, shamefully buried deep, deep, deep in the background. This is one heck of a good album, warts and all. As a Freddie Hubbard album, it really isn't all that significant or notable (Scott Yanow calls this and 1981's Splash Hubbard's worst records ever). But taken as a Bob James album with special guest soloist Freddie Hubbard, it’s a monster of a good record.

Bundle of Joy (1977): I remember this album as if it was released yesterday. I always had it, yet I never listened to it. But it's a strangely satisfying record when given half a chance. As a Freddie Hubbard album, it ranks among the least satisfying he ever did. Still, there is much to recommend the album for those willing to sit through - and enjoy - it. Oddly, Bert DeCoteaux was the arranger here. At the time, I thought he was a softie, like somebody who would arrange Vicki Lawrence albums or something. But, oddly enough, he was a soul guy who helmed soulful projects by Albert Ayler (!), Marlene Shaw, The Main Ingredient, B.B. King and Ramsey Lewis. So you know what they were going for. There's a beautiful duet here, "Portrait of Jenny," that Hubbard plays most remarkably with the great, underrated harpist Dorothy Ashby. Even I am surprised how engagingly Hubbard and company covered Bunny Sigler's soulful, semi-disco hit "From Now On" (also covered by Lou Rawls and Linda Clifford). Hubbard really seems to respond to the groove, which ramps up especially nicely during DeCoteaux's nicely constructed bridge. But the best performances to be heard here, as expected, are the Hubbard pieces "Tucson Stomp" and, most especially, "Rahsann" (which, despite the spelling error, I presume, was intended as a dedication to Rahsaan Roland Kirk, who died shortly before this recording and who recorded several Quincy Jones sessions with Hubbard). Like so many like-minded albums of the period, Bundle of Joy, is "over arranged" to a fault and the type of album that jazz lovers revile and vilify. Soloists other than Hubbard are keyboardist David Garfield (on the two somewhat pretty pieces he contributes to the album), Ernie Watts ("Rahsann"), David T. Walker ("Bundle of Joy") and Azar Lawrence ("Tucson Stomp"). Worth a listen, if only to hear what jazz guys had to do in the late 1970s to sell records. Strangely, records like this really didn't sell.

The Love Connection (1979): Freddie Hubbard must have experienced a great deal of frustration and consternation by this late point in his Columbia career. After five years with the label and repeated bows to acceptance or salability, he hadn't found a hit that met with public favor or a successful formula that rekindled the critics' appreciation of his music. So he teamed with arranger Claus Ogerman, who'd recently provided Hubbard's former CTI-mate George Benson with two huge-selling records for Warner Bros. and another former CTI-mate, Stanley Turrentine, with two of his better post-CTI albums for Fantasy. Ogerman, who also provided arrangements for Jobim's best CTI records, doesn't seem like the right match for Hubbard. The trumpeter's title track is proof enough. But it does get better. Among the best songs heard here are the ones where Ogerman's magic gets to shine through. Such examples include Hubbard's "Brigitte," written for Hubbard's wife (and widow) and originally featured on Hubbard's 1973 album Keep Your Soul Together, showing off Ogerman's gorgeous string flairs and a lovely piano solo from Chick Corea. Hubbard rises to the occasion here, as he does on "This Dream," Hubbard's duet with strings and muted brass as well as Corea and bassist Stanley Clarke in top supportive form. The song everyone remembers from this record is Hubbard's lovely "Little Sunflower" (which Hubbard debuted on his 1967 album Backlash), with lyrics and vocals by Al Jarreau. Ignore Jarreau and, even Hubbard to an extent. What Ogerman does here is what he does best. And it gets even better, spectacularly better, on the gorgeous standard "Lazy Afternoon." This is what probably makes the Hubbard-Ogerman connection make the most sense. Both are at the height of their creative and collaborative powers here. Even Ogerman agrees. As he said in his beautiful anthology, Claus Ogerman: The Man Behind The Music (2002), "I say that the slow parts of 'Lazy Afternoon' arranged for Freddie Hubbard are my best work and all I can do as an arranger. This chart and its recording alone was worth my coming to the United States." The more up-tempo part of the track features sensational solos by Hubbard, tenor sax great Joe Farrell and interesting synth lines from Chick Corea. As much as the title track is worth listening to, everything else here is worth hearing too. The Love Connection was also issued on CD in Japan in November 2008.

Skagly (1980): The title of Hubbard's final Columbia album has always been confounding. "Skag" or "scag," in my day (or my way of understanding), was a derogatory term used for ugly girls. But there's a pretty lady pictured on the cover. So that can't be right. Unbeknownst to me, at least at the time anyway, "skag" was also the jargon used to describe heroin. So what exactly is Skagly supposed to mean? Who knows? Perhaps the heroin angle is what led many to believe that Hubbard's fall from the music (or grace) in the early 1990s was drug related, despite repeated insistences that it was due to a busted lip. The rumors still persist. However it's meant, I'm not sure what Hubbard is meant to be celebrating here other than a trip back to his roots. After his many "arranged" albums, Hubbard returns here to a focus on his own band - like he did, to some extent, on his 1974 Columbia debut, High Energy. This band features yet another Joe Henderson clone, Hadley Caliman, on tenor sax, Billy (William) Childs on keyboards, Larry Klein on bass and Carl Burnett on drums. It's a sort of a "back-to-basics" album with two Hubbard originals (the rather lame "Happiness Is Now" and the significant title track, which features a solo break copped from Herb Alpert's "Rise," of all things, and doesn't sound like something someone on smack would be able to do), a typically anachronistic ballad ("Summer of 42"), Larry Klein's "Cascais," arranged to sound like one of Woody Shaw's tracks of the period, and Childs's "Rustic Celebration," which features this pianist - a cross between Herbie Hancock and McCoy Tyner - at his very best. Sadly, the album came and went without much notice at all. Like so many of Hubbard's Columbia recordings, it's absolutely worth the effort, if for nothing else other than the good playing heard, particularly on the title track, by all concerned, even "extras" George Duke on clavinet and Doobie Brother Jeff "Skunk" Baxter on guitar (both on the title track only). Trombonist Phil Ranelin is also prominent in the background of two tracks ("Cascais" and "Rustic Celebration"), both of which seem to be striving for a Woody Shaw sort of thing - something the label, no doubt, forced on Hubbard and certainly hastened his departure to other recording climes. One wonders what Hubbard must have thought of the recordings he made with Shaw several years later.

Wounded Bird is also releasing two Hubbard compilations from his CTI years, Polar AC, which features a beautiful Pete Turner cover and was issued years ago on CD in Japan, and The Baddest Hubbard, which has never been issued on CD before.

The Baddest Hubbard features four songs issued on previous Hubbard releases - all of which should be fairly easy to find on CD outside of this collection. Polar AC contains five songs, three of which only appear here: "People Make The World Go Round," "Betcha, By Golly Wow" and "Son of Sky Dive" (aka "Sky Dive").

Monday, April 20, 2009

RIP - Butch Cornell

Thanks to my dear friend, producer, musician, educator and jazz historian Arnaldo DeSouteiro for the sad news that keyboardist and composer Butch Cornell passed away in his hometown of Chattanooga, Tennessee, on December 7, 2008. He died of kidney failure.

Born in Chattanooga on November 21, 1941, David C. "Butch Cornell" Randolph Jr., never really got the credit he deserved or was his due as a sweet, soulful player and composer of instantly catchy, soulful anthems. He moved to New York City in the late 1960s and his soulful stylings promptly got him employment with Willis Jackson and Boogaloo "Joe" Jones.

Cornell can be heard on a sadly slim few recordings, including Willis "Gator" Jackson's Smoking With Willis (Cadet, 1965) and several of Boogaloo "Joe" Jone's most notable albums: No Way! (Prestige, 1970 - two songs only, including Cornell's own funked-out "Sunshine Alley" - highlighting an early knock-out feature by Grover Washington, Jr.), What It Is (Prestige, 1971) and Snake Rhythm Rock (Prestige, 1972).

Cornell's most well-known recording is undoubtedly Sugar (CTI, 1970), tenor saxophonist Stanley Turrentine's seminal album, which launched not only his signature hit, but as one of the "great" CTI albums, helped launch the 1970's best jazz label into the stratosphere where it belonged. Cornell's defining "Sunshine Alley" was part of the album's success. But, here, it was taken at a much slower, more deliberate pace than Cornell laid it down three months before with Boogaloo (no doubt, one of Creed Taylor's wise suggestions).

Cornell was part of Turrentine's group at the time, curiously replacing the tenor player's soon-to-be ex-wife, Shirley Scott. Cornell remained with Turrentine for quite a few years thereafter, but somehow never found his way on to many more of Turrentine's records of the period (there are, however, some outtakes that have appeared since then). Creed Taylor, as is well known, was in favor of assembling studio groups in favor of capturing working groups. Perhaps that is why Cornell fell through music's cracks. Who knows why it never happened for Butch Cornell. He deserved better.

Arnaldo DeSouteiro provides a warm, wonderful remembrance of Butch Cornell here.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

CTI Records

Devin Leonard does a winning job interviewing Creed Taylor, Freddie Hubbard, Ron Carter, Hubert Laws, producer John Snyder and arranger Don Sebesky in his "Record Auteur" profile of the rise and fall of CTI Records from issue no. 34 of waxpoetics magazine.

The CTI story is indeed a fascinating one, as I've recounted in great detail on my CTI Records site, and Leonard's profile is a cogent reminder of not only how influential CTI Records was back in the day, but how significant Creed Taylor is to the history of jazz recording.

The 20-page article features many good black-and-white shots from photographer Chuck Stewart's archives chronicling Taylor's ascendency in the music as well as a two-page spread detailing 48 of CTI's extraordinarily distinctive album covers.

Leonard's profile allows the participants to pretty much tell the story, thankfully detaching the author from much of the fawning fan praise that often goes into stuff like this (one writer, in particular, who is mysteriously always asked for purple prose PR-like quotes on Creed Taylor is thankfully ignored here). Leonard also disregards some of the hindsight-is-20-20 critical overtures that others seem to make after an empire's fallen.

Leonard has his subjects bravely confront many of the conflicting messages and taboo subjects that are part and parcel of the CTI story. While this was obviously not a roundtable discussion, it is refreshing to hear such participants be objective and open to real discussion. The effect comes off as offering more truth to history than legend.

Nothing especially revealing comes out of the profile for any readers moderately familiar with my site. But there are many very good reflections. Leonard gives you the sense that you are listening to a conversation rather than reading a cobbling of the separate interviews it really was. He's wise, too, to get the info from more than one source.

Indeed, I believe Leonard did a far greater profile here than I would have done for the magazine. He also elicited the following information that provided insight to my understanding and deep, life-long appreciation of the CTI Records legacy:

Bob James: One of the things I can remember is that Creed and Rudy [van Gelder] would not let the records be longer than eighteen minutes on a side. If you went any longer, you have to squeeze the groove. You'd lose bass, and you'd lose quality. Rudy would make the groove wide, which translates into better bass. I really think that's one of the reasons Ron [Carter] became such a big star. Those CTI records just made him sound so good.

John Snyder [Copying the CTI formula]: It was Creed. Those other guys just didn't have everything right. It's the guy. It's him. You can't replicate that. The art of making a record is not just putting up a mic in front of a group of guys who make music together. It's not capturing something. It's creating something. Records are illusion. They are like movies. When you go [see] Batman, you know it's not really happening. But you buy into it. You say this is a rational universe. That's what Creed did. He made it look like the rabbit was really coming out of the hat. That's not something anybody is born doing. I don't know of anybody who did it better than Creed - whether you like it or not.

That says it all about the enduring magic of CTI Records. It was something that Creed Taylor created, something that made the musicians millionaires, if not entirely artistically satisfied, and something that truly resonated with more jazz buyers than most any other jazz music in history (CTI-bashers never take that into account).

As a listener, I've gone on to buy much more of the music that CTI artists made after they left CTI. While there are certainly some classics and stand-outs in that huge swath of records and CDs in the intervening four-some decades, sadly too little of it bested the work these artists did while they were housed - however briefly - at CTI Records.

I would like to have read more here about Taylor's days at Verve and how they influenced some of his thinking toward the formation of CTI and more of the story behind his relationship with A&M Records in the late 1960s. It would also have been good and more fair to discuss the awkward pre-Red Clay early days of CTI, when Taylor had envisioned a very different entity than the CTI that everyone came to know.

I do take exception to Leonard's claim that "one of the last great records [Taylor] made was Chet Baker's 1974 album She Was Too Good to Me" (said, perhaps, because of the questionable condition of the trumpet player at the time). It really isn't a great album. There are just some questionably "great" stories behind it. Which begs the question, why no discussion of so many other "great" albums at CTI? There are some good stories for some good records here. But no analysis of the "great" albums that made the label as important as the profile rightly claims it to be.

There were any number of "great" CTI records made after the Chet Baker album, most notably Jim Hall's 1975 album Concierto, and others that may be a bit more arguable, such as Dave Matthew's 1977 album Dune, Studio Trieste (1982) and still a slew of "good" ones from Grover Washington, Jr., George Benson, Lalo Schifrin, Bob James and others.

All in all, Devin Leonard's piece is a very good read that will be of great interest to aficionados of CTI Records, Creed Taylor and, most notably, jazz in the 1970s.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Bill Frisell Songs

I wanted to create my own copy of my favorite Bill Frisell compositions over the years; a sort of mix disc(s) of my own "Best of Bill." These are just the guitarist's own compositions. I left off any of his covers of pop, rock, country or jazz standards - and any of his many beautiful adaptations of traditional themes. I also focused solely on discs appearing under the guitarist's own name.

I was surprised how much I ended up with - and how much more that could have been considered. These really are my favorites of the bunch. There are probably many others worth considering and some may say these are obvious choices. But it just goes to show how artfully, melodically - and, often, memorably - Bill Frisell puts a beautiful song together. His tunes are usually quite lovelier than one would ever expect from such an edgy guitarist - or from someone who isn't known excplicity as a composer.

There are undoubtedly some songs left out here that I would like to have included and alternative versions others may prefer. But I try to note the alternative versions of these tunes that are available elsewhere below. Check it out - and let me know what you think:


1. Rambler from Rambler (ECM, 1985), also performed by Bill Frisell on Ginger Baker's Going Back Home (Atlantic, 1994).

2. Lonesome from Lookout For Hope (ECM, 1988), one of my earliest Frisell favorites, was also performed on Gone, Just Like A Train (Nonesuch, 1998) and included below.

3. Rag from Is That You (Elektra Musician, 1990), also performed on This Land (Elektra Musician, 1994) and Live (Grammavision, 1995).

4. Amarillo Barbados from This Land (Elektra Musician, 1994).

5. Keep Your Eyes Open, an utterly wonderful piece of work from Nashville (Nonesuch, 1997), also performed on the 2008 DVD Solos (Songline, 2004).

6. Pipe Down from Nashville (Nonesuch, 1997), also performed - excellently! - on East West (Nonesuch, 2005).

7. Family from Nashville (Nonesuch, 1997), also performed by Bill Frisell with Jim Hall on Hemispheres (ArtistShare, 2008).

8. Verona from Gone, Just Like A Train (Nonesuch, 1998).

9. Egg Radio from Gone, Just Like A Train (Nonesuch, 1998), also performed on Bill Frisell Quartet (Nonesuch, 1996) and the download-only Further East Further West (Nonesuch, 2005).

10. Lonesome from Gone, Just Like A Train (Nonesuch, 1998), also on Lookout For Hope (ECM, 1988), included above.

11. The Pioneers from Good Dog, Happy Man (Nonesuch, 1999).


1. Where Do We Go? from Blues Dream (Nonesuch, 2001).

2. What Do We Do? from Blues Dream (Nonesuch, 2001).

3. Coffaro's Theme from Bill Frisell with Dave Holland and Elvin Jones (Nonesuch, 2001), also performed on Bill Frisell Quartet (Nonesuch, 1996). The 1996 version can also be heard on the Finding Forrester soundtrack (Sony, 2000).

4. Strange Meeting from Bill Frisell with Dave Holland and Elvin Jones (Nonesuch, 2001), also performed by Bill Frisell on Rambler (ECM, 1985), Strange Meeting by Power Tools (Antilles, 1987), This Land (Elektra Musician, 1994) and Live (Grammavision, 1995).

5. I Want To Go Home from The Willies (Nonesuch, 2002).

6. Good Old People from The Intercontinentals (Nonesuch, 2003).

7. 1968 from Unspeakable (Nonesuch, 2004).

8. Worse and Worse from Bill Frisell, Ron Carter, Paul Motian (Nonesuch, 2006).

9. Monroe from Bill Frisell, Ron Carter, Paul Motian (Nonesuch, 2006), seemingly a Frisell favorite, also performed on Good Dog, Happy Man (Nonesuch, 1999), the download-only Further East Further West (Nonesuch, 2005) and the woeful History, Msytery (Nonesuch, 2008).

10. Opening Theme from All Hat (EmArcy, 2008).

My heartfelt thanks to David Orton and his wonderful Bill Frisell Song Finder Page for much of the detail above. Also, Bill Frisell's own masterful site contains much great information - plus a way to order much of his music that can't be found elsewhere!

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Rediscovery: Paul Motian Band "Psalm"

Hard to believe this album was recorded nearly 30 years ago, in December 1981. It seems a lifetime ago, and indeed it probably has been a lifetime since then. Imagine the changes to jazz and to music itself. Just goes to show the timelessness of what ECM has tried to capture and, perhaps more notably, the timelessness of what drummer and composer Paul Motian (b. 1931) set out to accomplish.

Imagine too, how each of the musicians in Motian's band have changed since then too; although, it is with great pleasure to report that all five are still among us, continuing to make music today.

Psalm is the first recorded evidence of drummer Paul Motian's group with guitarist Bill Frisell (b. 1951) and saxophonist Joe Lovano (b. 1952) - many years before either found success on their own.

Only the drummer's fifth solo album since 1972 - and his fifth on the ECM label (he's recorded prolifically since then for Manfred Eicher's label as well as other discs for the Soul Note, JMT and Winter & Winter labels), the disc also features Ed Schuller (Gunther's son, born 1955) on bass and Billy Drewes (b. 1952) on saxophones.

It's a most remarkable disc and, somehow, it takes on new meaning after all these years. I admit I heard this album about a half a lifetime ago and it didn't move me at all. Now it does. The seeds of the entire downtown movement can be heard right here. Yes, right here. Can it be that Psalm was the first downtown jazz album of the 1980s? I think so, yes.

Motian, as he often does on many of his discs, composed all of the eight pieces heard here. He has always been a slippery composer, avoiding overt melodies in favor of melodic lines or melancholy ideas that allow his band to improvise in, on or around. No exceptions here. However, there are some stronger than usual themes present.

"White Magic" suggests Ornette Coleman in Prime Time mode, with Schuller laying down a particularly strong Charlie Haden-like line. On up-tempo tunes such as this and "Second Hand," Schuller provides much of the group's overall success.

"Mandeville," unquestionably the disc's finest moment, presages Frisell's launch into folk themes a decade and a half later. Here, Schuller actually suggests Marc Johnson (who, like Motian, a former Bill Evans sideman, would go on to work with the drummer years later) and Motian even provides something of a lesson plan here that the great Joey Baron could gravitate towards.

Frisell sounds a little different here than expected. He is, of course, melodic and wonderfully respectful of the melody. But he brings something of an edge to his playing here that is the province of youth and rebellion; something that is as appealing and satisfying as it is challenging (of expectations) and unsettling (if you are looking for straight-line acknowledgement of themes). No doubt, he would deliver this wonderful theme much, much, much more differently today.

Frisell is much more dominant here than I remember - surprising, considering his lack of identity or name recognition at this time - more or less providing the backbone for the quiet "Psalm," the beguiling "Etude," the haunting "Fantasm," the quixotic "Yahllah," the rockish "Second Hand" and the more rambunctious rock of "Boomerang."

It's amazing to hear how distinct Lovano sounds here, too, having become more predominant as time goes on, but sounding confident and very much in his own bag throughout ("Boomerang," "Fantasm").

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

RIP - Bud Shank

Clifford Everett Shank Jr., or "Bud Shank" as everyone knew him, died of pulmonary failure at his home on April 2nd in Tucson, Arizona. He was 82. Born May 27, 1926, in Dayton, Ohio, Bud Shank became an important fixture in West Coast jazz by the late 1940s. While specializing on alto sax, inspired, no doubt, by Charlie Parker, Shank had also mastered any number of other reed instruments by this time - particularly the clarinet (which he learned first, at age 10), tenor sax, oboe and flute.

He was one of the very first to define the "West Coast Cool" sound of the 1950s, but he also ventured much further into the music than he's often given credit for. He was a fixture in Stan Kenton's best bands of the 1950s. He later became one of the first American jazz musicians to record Bossa Nova music (with Laurindo Almeida), long before the popular music wave swept over the world. He also recorded with Ravi Shankar in 1962, years before the rest of the world (and The Beatles) discovered the charms of Shankar's music.

Aside from these many great and often historic jazz dates, Shank played on countless film and TV sessions while in Los Angeles during the 1960s and 70s. Shank - who was often billed as "C.E. Shank" on these otherwise anonymous recordings - performed on many soundtracks such as The Thomas Crown Affair and pop records by The Mamas and The Papas.

He also appeared on many of Lalo Schifrin's most memorable recordings including Mission: Impossible, Mannix, (notably) Bullitt, Kelly's Heroes, Che, Planet of the Apes, Brubaker, Way…Way Out, The Venetian Affair, Braddock, How I Spent My Summer Vacation and probably many others I don’t know about as well as such Schifrin concert pieces as The Sphinx (1965) and Pulsations (1971).

The Los Angeles Times obit is here.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Happy Birthday Hugh Masekela

An icon in jazz and a hero in his homeland, South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela turns 70 years old today, (April 4, 1939), celebrating in his beloved homeland with special concerts at the Cape Town Jazz Festival and in his native Johannesburg. The anti-apartheid musical freedom fighter is heard in classic form on Phola, his 35th recording as a leader and second for the Four Quarters label. Masekela is set for selected US dates in Washington, D.C., Hartford, CT., San Francisco, Houston and New Orleans.

Produced by the talented multi-instrumentalist Erik Paliani, Phola features Masekela's fluid, warm-toned flugelhorn work and distinctive vocals on a collection of relaxed, engaging vehicles that blend aspects of jazz, R&B, Afro-beat and township music. From buoyant instrumentals like "Mwanayu Wakula" and the grooving "Moz" (a number ever bit as catchy as his 1968 breakthrough hit "Grazing in the Grass"), to stirring vocal numbers like "Ghana," "Bring It Back Home" and the autobiographical "Sonnyboy," Masekela delivers with old school charm and youthful enthusiasm on Phola (a South African term meaning to get well, to heal, to relax and chill).

April 17: Zanzibar, Washington, D.C.
April 18: Artists Collective, (Jackie MacLean Tribute Concert) Hartford, CT.
April 24: Palace of Fine Arts, San Francisco, CA.
April 25: Houston International Jazz Festival
April 26: New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival

Born on April 4, 1939 in Witbank, South Africa, Masekela began singing and playing piano as a child but he picked up trumpet at age 14 after seeing the Hollywood film Young Man With A Horn, in which actor Kirk Douglas portrayed the legendary American jazz trumpeter Bix Beiderbecke. After being given a trumpet by Archbishop Trevor Huddleston, the anti-apartheid chaplain at St. Peters Secondary School, young Hugh immersed himself in the 78 RPM recordings of such American jazz stars as Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, Chick Webb, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Coleman Hawkins, Cab Calloway, Fats Waller, Sarah Vaughan, Louis Jordan, Billie Holiday and Charlie Christian. By his late teens he began patterning himself after bebop trumpeters like Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Clifford Brown and Kenny Dorham while also absorbing the influence of Oscar Peterson, Dave Brubeck, Paul Desmond, Stan Getz, Gerry Mulligan, Chet Baker, Bud Powell, John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, Horace Silver, Art Blakey, Lee Morgan, Freddie Hubbard and Chet Baker.

After learning the rudiments of trumpet playing, Masekela joined the Huddleston Jazz Band, South Africa's very first youth orchestra. He went on to play in other dance bands led by the likes of Zakes Nkosi, Ntemi Piliso, Elijah Nkwanyana and Kippie Moeketsi, then by 1956 he joined Alfred Herbert's African Jazz Revue. At the end of 1959, he formed the Jazz Epistles with pianist Dollar Brand (later known as Abdullah Ibrahim) and began the first African jazz group to record an LP. By 1960, Masekela escaped the Apartheid state of South Africa and relocated in London, where he studied at the prestigious Guildhall School of Music. Two years later he released his first album as a leader, Trumpet Africaine, on the Mercury Records label.

In 1964, Masekela married South African singer Miriam Makeba and the following year he recorded his breakthrough album The Americanization of Ooga Booga. By 1966, the trumpeter relocated to Los Angeles and recorded The Emancipation of Hugh Masekela, the title of which may have been a sly reference to his divorce that year from Makeba. The massive success of his 1968 radioplay hit "Grazing in the Grass," which sold over four million copies worldwide, made Masekela an international star. By 1970, Masekela and his business partner/producer Stewart Levine formed Chisa Records, a Motown subsidiary which featured the recordings of Masekela as well as The Crusaders, Letta Mbulu and Monk Montgomery. There were about seven releases in the Chisa series, including Masekela's own Reconstruction in 1970 and Hugh Masekela and the Union of South Africa in 1971, before the label folded. Masekela and Levine moved their operation to Blue Thumb Records (1972-74), where the trumpeter began to dig deeper into his African jazz heritage, as heard on 1972's Home Is Where The Music Is, featuring African reedman Dudu Pukwana, 1973's Masekela Introducing Hedzoleh Sounds and 1974's Afro-beat flavored I Am Not Afraid.

Masekela continued to generate hits through the '70s and in the early '80s released some strong albums for Britain's Jive Records label, including 1984's Techno-Bush. He later conceived with playwright and songwriter Mbongeni Ngema the musical Sarafina, which found great success on Broadway in 1988. After being recruited for Paul Simon's Graceland tour, which included a number of prominent African musicians including Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Miriam Makeba, Masekela returned home to South Africa following the release of Nelson Mandela in 1990. He released a string of engaging Afrobeat and township style recordings through the decade, including 1992's Beatin' Around de Bush, 1994's Reconstruction, 1998's Black to the Future and 1999's Note of Life. He scored successes in subsequent years with 2002's Time on Columbia, 2005's Revival on Heads Up and 2007's Live at the Market Theatre, his debut for Four Quarters.