The CTI Catalogue Re-Launch Series

CTI was one of the last vestiges of jazz-with-a-personality during the 1970s. Forerunners like Blue Note, Verve and Impulse lost much of their individuality and uniqueness by the time Creed Taylor took his designer label from Herb Alpert's shop at A&M and made it an independent jazz force to be reckoned with. Taylor, former brain trust at ABC-Paramount, Impulse and Verve, knew how to put together a shiny package and sell it. After all, this is the guy who brought John Coltrane to Impulse in 1960, initiated the bossa nova craze in 1962 with "The Girl From Ipanema" and had Wes Montgomery earning a healthy income for his family.

Taylor started with top-flight jazz talent, surrounded them with cream-of-the-crop New York studio musicians and recorded it all with lush string and horn sections. Much of his music was recorded at Rudy Van Gelder's pristine Englewood Cliffs studios. Programs were carefully selected to mix catchy originals with snazzy Top 40 covers. Finally, the crowning touch was the classy packaging: expensive, shiny gatefold jackets (thicker and heavier than most single records at the time) bearing the signature photography of Pete Turner.

CTI soon fell on hard times, losing heavy-hitters like Freddie Hubbard and Stanley Turrentine and suffering the financial burden of Taylor's failure to create his own distribution network. Still, Taylor went on putting out records (with the help of Motown). By 1980 he sold his impressive back catalog to Epic Records, which released a handful of the records on CD in 1988-89. Since then Taylor has continued issuing records independently - and Epic lost interest in releasing anything more of the CTI classics - until now.

With this initial batch of 10 releases, Epic has done a terrific job restoring the splendor of CTI. Glossy, tri-fold packaging celebrates photographer Pete Turner's brilliant and memorable cover art. Super Bit Mapping technology freshens the crispness of Taylor and Van Gelder's peerless production. Some of the releases are long awaited (Freddie Hubbard, Stanley Turrentine), some cultish (Lalo Schifrin, Patti Austin). But all are given equal care and attention. Good research has also provided more accurate recording dates, more comprehensive musician credits - and in some cases, bonus tracks and added alternate takes. Most are well recommended to old jazz fans and those seeking to hear some of the best jazz made during the 1970s, a too-often derided period in jazz:

Freddie Hubbard: Straight Life
Stanley Turrentine: Salt Song
Hubert Laws: In The Beginning
Lalo Schifrin: Black Widow
Deodato: Prelude
George Benson: Beyond The Blue Horizon
Paul Desmond: Skylark
Milt Jackson: Sunflower
Jim Hall: Concierto
Various Artists : Birth Of The Groove: CTI Records

One sour note: these reissues are very expensive (listing for an incredibly ridiculous $16.98) - and may prohibit buyers from replacing CD copies of, say, Paul Desmond's Skylark or Milt Jackson's Sunflower with the new ones. In turn, that may prohibit Epic from seriously continuing the "re-launch" program into the future. Let's hope not. There's still plenty more CTI music that deserves to be heard.

Straight Life
reddie Hubbard:
(CTI ZK65125)

This November 1970 all-star aggregate is reminiscent of the numerous blowing sessions Prestige issued in the late 1950s. It's brimming with interesting players most jazz-lovers are sure to recognize: Hubbard , current tenor rave Joe Henderson, guitarist George Benson, Fender Rhodes scholar Herbie Hancock, bassist extraordinaire Ron Carter, drum wizard Jack DeJohnette and two percussionists. It simmers with good and lengthy Hubbard originals: "Straight Life" and "Mr. Clean." There's plenty of finger-licking improvising from the participating jazz legends and the added bonus of a pretty trio version of the standard, "Here's That Rainy Day," featuring Hubbard with only Benson and Carter. But this jam session is guided mostly by solid urban funk. Hubbard conceives catchy, yet basic, heads for his originals (much like his memorable "Red Clay," "The Intrepid Fox," "Povo" and "Destiny's Children") - then sets his talented associates free. Free is, in fact, the mode Henderson was exploring during this period. His near-out solos elicit some very exciting playing from Hubbard too (soul man Stanley Turrentine brings out an altogether different side of Hubbard's appeal). Hancock is, as always then, quite interesting to hear; but his straight electric solos don't allow much for the synthetic kozmigroove he'd be exploring very soon hereafter. Straight Life, the second of four superb CTI studio albums Hubbard recorded during the early 1970s, is an excellent outpouring of good jazz from talented young stars in their prime. It has much to teach those who would deride funk-jazz as having nothing interesting to say. Recommended. (First time on CD).

Salt Song
Stanley Turrentine
(CTI ZK65126)

This long-awaited CD is the second of Sugarman Stanley Turrentine's four CTI studio record albums. All are worth acquiring. But Salt Song, in addition to the remarkable cover art of Pete Turner's 'tsunami,' is notable for one of the five - and best - of Turrentine's renditions of Freddie Hubbard's "Gibraltar" the muscular tenor man performed for the label. Having also recorded the song with no less than guitarists Kenny Burrell and George Benson, studio whiz and future Stuff man Eric Gale really brought the 'rock' out of the piece. Eumir Deodato's simple, yet grinding arrangement is in no small part responsible as well. This July 1971 session also benefits by the additions of keyboardists Deodato, Horace Parlan and Richard Tee (who, despite their individual and distinctive traits, are hardly identifiable here), Ron Carter on bass and Billy Cobham on drums. Deodato's simplicity is most effective on the tremendously provocative gospelesque version of "I Told Jesus." Milton Nascimento's title track gets a fair reading and Turrentine's lone original, "Storm," gets a luke-warm bossa-nova / funk rendition that manages to elicit fireworks from the leader. The CD also adds the bonus of a pretty, yet unspectacular, version of "Vera Cruz;" another Nascimento tune the tenor player recorded with Sivuca and Airto in April 1971. Salt Song offers the valuable "Gibraltar," the challenging "I Told Jesus" and Turrentine's interesting "Storm." But here, as so often elsewhere, Turrentine plays the hell out of some middling material far beneath his grasp. Still, there's not much the Sugarman can't make interesting. (First time on American CD. Includes one bonus track).

In The Beginning
Hubert Laws
(CTI ZK 65127)

While Hubert Laws will never be accused of making the perfect record (Afro Classic is as close as it gets), he has been known to craft some of the most ingenious performances in styles as diverse as quasi-classical, bop jazz, pop, fuzak and funk. In The Beginning, seventh of his nine CTI records, is one of Laws' stronger displays of all these talents combined. The original album, recorded in February 1974, was one of only two double albums released by CTI. It was later released as two single records titled Then There Was Light. In The Beginning (a confusing title) benefits from the fine contributions of composer / pianist Clare Fischer (on the triptych-like odyssey of the title track), pianist Bob James ("Restoration," "Reconciliation") and the unmistakable fuel of bassist Ron Carter and drummer Steve Gadd. Throughout, Laws is peerless. Song choices range from the hard bop of Sonny Rollins' "Airegin" and John Coltrane's "Moment's Notice" and the yucky classicism of Satie's "Gymnopedie #1" (recently covered by Eddie Daniels) to the fusion of Laws' own "Mean Lene" (featuring the excellent David Friedman on vibes). This is one of Laws' more consistent efforts; the variety of his interests mesh more seamlessly here than in past records. In The Beginning offers a good glimpse of the flautist's multi-faceted talents. (Never released on CD before).

Black Widow
Lalo Schifrin
(CTI ZK65128)

Pianist and composer Lalo Schifrin, known for his work in jazz with Dizzy Gillespie (Gillespiana) and for popular themes to TV's "Mission Impossible," "Mannix" and "Medical Center," reunited with Creed Taylor in 1975 to produce this above average collection of dance-pop / jazz. The two hadn't worked together since Taylor produced Schifrin's superior 1966 Verve opus, The Dissection of Music. (also reissued recently on CD) and Schifrin hadn't released much under his own name in the mean time. With Black Widow, Schifrin successfully wed the improvisational nature of jazz with the commercial appeal of then-emerging disco trends. He makes it work by employing his trademark flair for insanely memorable themes; his own (notably, the title track) and well chosen covers (Les Baxter's "Quiet Village," "Jaws" and "Baia"). The result is something like an acid-jazz version of bachelor-pad music -- and it's dated quite well too. The best tracks are the out-and-out dance numbers: "Black Widow," "Quiet Village," "Jaws" and Schifrin's "Turning Point." Schifrin, like Quincy Jones, seems to preside over these proceedings rather than participate. But his soloists are of the first-order: Schifrin or Clark Spangler on keyboards (it's hard to tell which); guitarists Eric Gale ("Quiet Village") and John Tropea ("Baia (alt. take)"); background vocalist Patti Austin ("Quiet Village"); and flautist Hubert Laws ("Jaws"). This CD finds the original eight tracks of the LP lengthened, by a few seconds to up to two minutes each. In fact, Eric Gale now has a tremendous solo in "Quiet Village" that LP listeners never even heard. And the four added tracks ("Frenesi," "Tabu," a guitar version of "Baia" and "Con Alma") are all worthwhile additions that round the CD out to a full hour of Schifrin music. In addition to his prosperous film work, Schifrin went on to make one more album for CTI (1976's Towering Toccata) before less successful disco attempts at Tabu and MCA. Black Widow is as good as "dazz" (disco-jazz, as the group Brick used to call it) ever got. (Includes three previously unreleased bonus tracks and one formerly unreleased alternate take. Other tracks are longer than the original LP issue).

(CTI ZK65129)

Arranger Eumir Deodato has had one of the stranger careers in jazz. He's worked with everyone from Luis Bonfa, Antonio Carlos Jobim and Wes Montogmery to Frank Sinatra, Aretha Franklin, Bette Midler and, lately, Bjork. Creed Taylor offered the keyboardist / arranger his first solo shot in 1972 with a pop-rock version of Richard Strauss' "Also Sprach Zarathustra," synonymous at the time with Stanley Kubrick's film, "2001." To everyone's surprise, the song became a huge dance hit - the biggest in CTI's thirty-year history. It's featured here, on Deodato's first of three CTI records. Prelude offers some of Deodato's most memorable recorded work - from the spunky funk of the title track and the groove-spiced "Baubles, Bangles and Beads" to the disc's supreme moment, the chunky funk of "September 13" (a hidden gem of 70s funk). All these performances are all fueled by John Tropea's fuzzy, yet muscular guitar and couched by drummer Billy Cobham's flexible, steady time. Deodato, the keyboardist, wisely defers to the guitarist on many occasions, seasoning and spicing with his electric piano (much like a funkier Gil Evans) and keeping solos brief. Unfortunately, the other tracks -- like so much of Deodato's other work on record -- tend toward the corny posturing of a frustrated early 1970s film composer (think "Love Story"). It's on these occasions when the studio horns and strings often state the melody. Today, Prelude seems like a time capsule of its era -- offering evidence of what made jazz fun during the early 70s and why so many jazz stick-in-the-muds hated it. That alone makes Prelude valuable.

Beyond The Blue Horizon
George Benson
(CTI ZK65130)

This 1971 release was guitarist George Benson's first of eight records for CTI, and one of his best ever. Benson's in good company here with stalwart Ron Carter on bass, Jack DeJohnette on drums, Clarence Palmer on organ and Michael Cameron and Albert Nicholson on percussion. Plus, he's working some excellent material: the terrific organ-trio reading of Miles Davis's "So What," Luis Bonfa's pretty "The Gentle Rain" and some of Benson's most inventive originals: "All Clear," "Somewhere In The East" and concert staple, "Ode To A Kudu." The guitarist is most at home running through his sped-up version of "So What" (even today, Benson's jazz career is best summed up with this one performance). But "Ode To A Kudu" and "Somewhere In the East" find Benson interestingly flirting with his familiar sound and style. He coaxes a metallic twang from his six strings here, then departs from any riff or lick to improvise very unusual progressions. He'll remind some listeners during these passages of future CTI labelmate Gabor Szabo. But it's worth listening very closely to what he's doing here. He shows brilliance this awesome too infrequently: two examples include the recently issued Legends of Acid Jazz: Jack McDuff and Benson's 1973 CTI album, Body Talk. Alternate takes of the three Benson originals (one apiece) also clear the way for some of Benson's finest, most experimental playing ever. Highly recommended. (Includes three alternate tracks not released on the original LP and one alternate not featured on the 1988 CD).

Paul Desmond
(CTI ZK 65133)

Paul Desmond's solo career, much of it guided by Creed Taylor from 1968 though 1974, was not dictated by risk-taking. The alto-saxophonist became famed while with Dave Brubeck's quartet for pretty intonation and witty interjections. Skylark is an exception. This outstanding late-1973 date was the first of two records Desmond recorded for CTI under his own name (he was also featured on projects by Don Sebesky, Jim Hall and Chet Baker). What makes it so unusual is the addition of guitarist Gabor Szabo. Unlike Desmond's past partner in crime, Jim Hall (or Canadian Ed Bickert shortly thereafter) Szabo was not an obvious accompanist (it was Creed Taylor's idea, having just signed the guitarist to CTI). Szabo's jangled runs, metallic tone and unusual conceptions seemed opposed to Desmond's pretty playing and polite witticism. Oddly though, Desmond is more ideally suited to guitarist Gene Bertoncini, who sticks to playing acoustic rhythm throughout. Szabo gets the solos (formerly only on the brilliant "Take Ten" and the mysterious "Romance de Amour" - and now also on alternate takes of "Skylark" and "Indian Summer"). To compound it, drummer Jack DeJohnette was hardly suited to Desmond either. The busy, polyphonic, near-brilliant percussion cues evidenced here are hardly the sort of thing Desmond would have expected from Joe Morello or Connie Kay. What holds it all together is Fender Rhodes man Bob James and, of course, bassist Ron Carter. Together, the two conspire to wed the traditional beauty of Desmond and Bertoncini with the exotica of Szabo and DeJohnette into quite potent, hypnotic performances. Skylark is strong, beautiful work that provides an elegant platform for Desmond's talents (more than the ho-hum follow-up, Pure Desmond) and offers one of the best, most interesting jazz records of the early 1970s. Highly recommended. (Includes three alternate tracks not released on the original LP and two alternates not featured on the 1988 CD) .

Milt Jackson
(CTI ZK65131)

After years on the road with the Modern Jazz Quartet and a series of sterling solo and all-star jazz performances, vibist Milt Jackson decided it was time to see some green. Watching kids half his age, possessing half his talent, earn millions playing rock, he insisted he could earn more without the restraints of the MJQ. He sought out Creed Taylor in 1972 and Sunflower became his first (and best) of three CTI albums. The album is significant in many ways, not the least of which is Pete Turner's lovely ostriches-in-the-morning cover photo and a peerless version of Freddie Hubbard's classic ode, "Little Sunflower." Jackson is joined here by an outstanding aggregate of younger all-star musicians including Hubbard on trumpet and flugelhorn, Herbie Hancock, swapping chores on piano and Fender Rhodes, Ron Carter (of course) on bass and Billy Cobham on drums. Don Sebesky provides the subtle, and quite complimentary, string and horn arrangements. Acoustic guitarist Jay Berliner is also heard to enchanting effect on Jackson's "For Someone I Love." In addition to the alluring beauty of Hubbard's title track, Sunflower also includes one of the best instrumental versions of the popular "People Make The World Go Round." Hubbard carries the tune (as he did on the 1972 Hollywood Bowl record issued by CTI in 1977). Jackson scores one clever lick after another off the changes. Hancock comps seductively on Rhodes but gives one of his baddest-ever all-piano funk solos (his piano solo on "Sunflower" is a jazz beauty to behold too). Carter, as you'd expect, churns the groove like it boils in his blood. This quintet sounds so good together that it's a shame "SKJ" (which stuck out originally on the vibist's 1973 CTI follow-up, Goodbye) is the only bonus track available. I don't know if Milt Jackson made any money from Sunflower. But despite all the great music he's made over the years, Sunflower is certainly one of his most memorable.

Jim Hall
(CTI ZK65132)

Although guitarist Jim Hall has recorded prolifically since the mid-1950s, he's only recently been featured regularly as a solo artist. This sterling set from April 1975 was only his fifth or sixth full-fledged solo effort and the first of three CTIs Hall recorded. To this day, it remains his best. Concierto is designed around a surprising set piece: Don Sebesky's elegant and hypnotic arrangement of Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez. The sad beauty of the song, immortalized in jazz and (unchallenged until then) by Miles Davis and Gil Evans, is brought to life by using the orchestral talents of the rhythm section: Roland Hanna on piano, Ron Carter on bass and understated Steve Gadd on drums. This trio cushions and interacts with its soloists - Hall's guitar, the trumpet of Chet Baker and Paul Desmond's alto - with uncanny instincts. Sebesky never crowds the players with unnecessary string or horn arrangements. These musicians, all supreme jazz soloists in their own right, fit seamlessly with the whole of a shared experience. It's an exceptional moment in jazz - and one that makes the rest of the original program pale in comparison. Oddly, though, it's quite a good program; featuring two solid Hall originals ("Two's Blues" and "The Answer Is Yes") and ideal covers of tunes by Cole Porter ("You'd Be So Nice To Come Home To") and Duke Ellington ("Rock Skippin"). This new edition of the Concierto CD adds a brief, yet welcome, duet for old partners Hall and Desmond ("Unfinished Business") as well as alternate takes to three other tunes (the Cole Porter alternate is a superior addition). Don't expect another take of the grand Rodrigo performance, though. Hall and Sebesky reunited in 1981 to record it again (Concierto de Aranjuez on Evidence). Concierto, however late an entry in CTI's history, exemplifies what made Creed Taylor's jazz concept so satisfying: great musicians at the height of their artistry playing exciting, yet accessible music easily appreciated and enjoyed. A classic. (Includes one added track and three alternate tracks not on the original LP. The added track and two of the alternates were not featured on the 1988 CD).

Birth Of The Groove: CTI Records
Various Artists
(CTI ZK65134)

Timed to cash in on the "acid-jazz" craze -- and the re-marketing of CTI -- this tasty (and inexpensively priced) little sampler has an unusually high caliber of first-rate funk. Features include Deodato's superb "September 13," Johnny Hammond's godly version of Aretha Franklin's "Rock Steady," the cop-rock of Hank Crawford's supreme "Sugar Free," Joe Farrell's goofy "Canned Funk" ("Upon This Rock" would have been a better choice) and the kicking "Hurtin' House" by Esther Phillips. You'll also hear funky features of CTI mainliners Stanley Turrentine ("Storm" from Salt Song), Milt Jackson ("I'm Not So Sure"), Dave Matthews ("Shoogie Wanna Boogie"), Idris Muhammad ("Hard To Face The Music") and George Benson's tremendous, yet not oft heard quartet version of "I Remember Wes" (1973). Despite the variety of artists present, electric guitar is the funking force on Birth Of The Groove. With that, Eric Gale is clearly the star here. This listener would've added a few more choice favorites: Urbie Green's "I Wish" (1977); Lalo Schifrin's "King Kong" or "Midnight Woman" (1977); and Yusef Lateef's "YL" (1977). But, hey...maybe we'll get a second volume. Most of these tracks aren't currently available elsewhere (one of the better marketing gimmicks of late), and funk jazz fans won't want to miss all the fun of this collective groovology. Birth Of The Groove is an excellent funk sampler from CTI, the factory that doled it out in generous proportions during the 70s. Get it!

I'm A 'Gittar' Player
Melvin Sparks
(Cannonball Records)

Guitarist Melvin Sparks will sound familiar to those who like the fatback soul-jazz of the late 60s and early 70s. That music has new life today as "acid jazz" and Sparks was a significant catalyst in its sound. He's ignited some of the better funk of Lou Donaldson (Pretty Things and Cosmos), Sonny Stitt (Turn It On), Charles Earland (Black Talk), Lonnie Smith (Think), Hank Crawford (the recent Tight) and Rusty Bryant (Sparks' best-ever solo is in the title track to Bryant's 1970 album Soul Liberation). He also released three solid solo disks on Prestige in 1970 and 1971 (Sparks, Sparkplug and Akilah), two excellent dates on Eastbound (Texas Twister in 1973 and '75 in 1975) and Sparkling on Muse in 1981.

I'm A 'Gittar' Player is a welcome return to center stage for Melvin Sparks. It presents him the way he's meant to be heard, in mostly blues, funk or boogaloo modes. Sparks remains a hell of an interesting player; engaging with bright, fluid lines, well-placed twangs and catchy ostinatos. He's rawer and more deliberate than George Benson, but, like his nearest rival, Jimmy Ponder, really comes out of Grant Green's 'soul bag' -- and it's best to consider Sparks in this context.

Problem with I'm A 'Gittar' Player is, despite Ron Levy's terrific production and first-rate playing by the leader, nothing really stands out. Sparks ain't doing anything here he hasn't done just as well elsewhere. He hits highs on the bluesy "Balcony," the Latin-twang of "Jiggy," (featuring Pucho) the soulful "Boogie Street" and "Sparkling" -- but he's done this kinda thing before. If you like Sparks' playing - and it's really hard to dislike -- you'll appreciate the common ground. One minus, though: unnecessary vocals on the Texas grind of "All Day, All Night" and the crap-rap on an otherwise good blues version of K.C. & The Sunshine Band's "Get Down Tonight."

I'm A 'Gittar' Player won't change the world. But it's good to hear a good player doing what he does best.

Songs: Mr Texan; Balcony; Jiggy--4; Boogie Street; I'm A 'Gittar' Player-1,2,3; Sparkling-2; Taste The Flavor; All Day All Night-1,2,3,8,9; Get Down Tonite-1,8,10.

Players: Melvin Sparks (guitar,vocals-1); Ed Pazant (alto sax); Ron Levy (organ); Fred McFarlane (Fender Rhodes, piano, clavinet); Danny Mixon (piano); Stanley Banks (electric bass--2); Idris Muhammad (drums-3); Steve Kroon (percussion); Pucho (timbales-4); Idrissa Hassan--8, Ayisha Hassan--8, Kevin Bowler--9 (vocals); Back-to-Back (rap vocals--10).

Donald Byrd
(Blue Note)

Trumpeter Donald Byrd made many worthwhile records during the sixties. Mustang, the first of four terrific Blue Note sessions Byrd made with ill-fated alto sax man Sonny Red between 1966 and 1967, is one of the great ones. Much of the success of this recording is due in no small part to Red's top-drawer participation. Pianist McCoy Tyner and under-valued tenor great Hank Mobley are exceptional throughout as well. All excel on the "Sidewinder" groove of the title cut, the "Watermelon Man" funk of the excellent "Dixie Lee," the familiar Blue Note bop of Byrd's "Fly Little Bird Fly" and "I'm So Excited By You" and the well-done covers of Grofe's "On The Trail" and Ellington's "I Got It Bad And That Ain't Good." The CD also includes two similar bonus tracks ("Gingerbread Boy" and "I'm So Excited By You") recorded by Byrd in 1964 with Jimmy Heath (in place of Red and Mobley) on tenor. Mustang is excellent jazz and a most highly recommended purchase. Next, let's hope Blue Note plans to release Byrd's Blackjack, another excellent Byrd-Red collaboration from 1967 featuring Cedar Walton and Billy Higgins.

Tracks: Mustang; Fly Little Bird Fly; I Got It Bad And That Ain't Good; Dixie Lee; On The Trail; I'm So Excited By You; Gingerbread Boy--1; I'm So Excited By You (First Version)--1.

Players: Donald Byrd (trumpet) with Sonny Red (alto sax); Hank Mobley (tenor sax); McCoy Tyner (piano); Walter Booker (bass); Freddie Waits (drums); with Jimmy Heath (tenor sax), McCoy Tyner (piano); Walter Booker (bass); Joe Chambers (drums).

I Want To Hold Your Hand
Grant Green
(Blue Note)

The title of this March 1965 session doesn't exactly inspire thoughts of collective interplay. And, sure enough, the music within is dreadfully dull. The third of four collaborations between guitarist Grant Green and organist Larry Young, I Want To Hold Your Hand, was also the last Blue Note record the guitarist made until 1969's Carryin' On (which initiated a three-year spate of rather dull pop-funk). The arrangements are bland at best; ignited only by the inventive cues drummer Elvin Jones interjects. Young, a helluva more brilliant player than this disc allows, comps rather methodically like a hack-pianist in a lounge bar. Hank Mobley sounds positively somnambulant. And Green, who solos meaningfully enough, only comes to life on his solos for the standards "Speak Low, " "Stella By Starlight," "At Long Last Love" and Steve Allen's corny "This Could Be The Start Of Something Big." Everyone here has sounded more interesting (and alive) elsewhere. Perhaps Blue Note will consider issuing the far more interesting Green-Young collaborations Talkin About (1964) or Street of Dreams (1964). Listeners may want, instead, to check out the more interesting His Majesty King Funk (1965), recorded a mere two months later for Verve, for evidence of how good organist Larry Young and guitarist Grant Green sounded together.

Tracks: Corcovado (Quiet Nights); At Long Last Love; Speak Low; This Could Be The start Of Something Big; I Want To Hold Your Hand; Stella By Starlight.

Players: Hank Mobley (tenor sax); Larry Young (organ); Grant Green (guitar); Elvin Jones (drums).

Freedom Sound
Pancho Sanchez
(Corcord Picante)

Pleasant, competent and earnest Latin jazz, notable as a return to serious playing for Jazz Crusaders Wilton Felder (tenor) and Wayne Henderson (trombone) - but little else. In Freedom Sound, conga man Pancho Sanchez has structured a sort of sequel to the Jazz Crusaders' excellent 1965 Latin jam, Chili Con Soul (Pacific Jazz). But this March 1997 session is missing the soulful groove the earlier album delivered in spicy spades. Sanchez utilizes the tenor-bone frontline, even on tracks that don't feature Felder or Henderson. And that's fine. But short of the Sanchez's congas, everyone else seems to be going through the motions on standard Latin numbers ("Brown & Blue," Kenny Cox's "Latin Bit") and Latin-ized jazz (old Crusader staples "Freedom Sound" and "Scratch"). Exceptions include the Latin mode of Kenny Cox's "Transdance" and Henderson's absolutely beautiful feature on the standard, "You Don't Know What Love Is." A bit of salsa on "Pretame Tu Corazon" and Sanchez' s own "(Baila El) Suava Cha" breaks the mood - but, to these ears, not for the better. It's a shame Joe Sample is still on the outs with Felder and Henderson. The "freedom sound" really is a triumvirate of the trio's understanding of each individual's strongest assets. A strong leader like Sanchez could have brought their considerable 'Latin soul' strengths to bear. Unfortunately, Freedom Sound is a mild dish; not without it's charms but definitely lacking in fire.

Tracks: Brown & Blue--2; Transdance; Aleluia; Freedom Sound-1,2,3; You Don't Know What Love Is--3; Prestame Tu Corazon; MJ's Funk-2,3; (Baila El) Suava Cha; When We Were One; Latin Bit; Scratch-2,3.

Players: Pancho Sanchez (conga, vocals); David Torres (piano); Ramon Banda (timbales, trap drums); Tony Banda (Acoustic and electric bass); Jose "Papo" Rodriguez (percussion, congas and bongos); Scott Martin (alto, tenor and baritone sax, flute); Alex Henderson (trombone, didrido-1); Wilton Felder-2; Wayne Henderson-3.

Lee Morgan
(Blue Note)

Lee Morgan recorded a couple dozen records just like this for Blue Note back in the sixties - swinging, soulful sessions that featured catchy, clever real-jazz tunes and interesting players at the top of their game. Perhaps that's why this September 29, 1966, session wasn't released on record until 1969. In time and interest, Charisma falls between the delightful Delightfulee and The Rajah, a more by-the-numbers Morgan session that Blue Note didn't release until 1986. Now that it 's back in circulation again, Charisma has much to recommend it; not the least of which is the presence of alto great Jackie McLean (a frequent Morgan ally on Tom Cat, Cornbread, Infinity and The Sixth Sense, to name a few). Also on board is pianist Cedar Walton, who contributes with a soulfulness that was so much a part of his playing back then, the heroic Hank Mobley on tenor, Paul Chambers on bass and Billy Higgins on drums. Charisma aptly describes the group interplay here too. The three horns and the pianist had a particularly good day: playfully coming up with one interesting line after another and chasing each other with frisky, frolicsome solos. Morgan stacks the deck with a great line-up of originals too: the funky "Hey Chico," the bop grind of "Somethin' Cute" and "The Murphy Man" and the blues of "The Double Up." Pianist Cedar Walton provides another one of his memorable ballads in "Rainy Night" and the sextet has a lot of fun with Duke Pearson's rollicking "Sweet Honey Bee" too. Even though most of Lee Morgan's records are worth hearing time and again, Charisma embodies much of what makes the trumpeter's music valuable and worthwhile three decades later. This is one to get and enjoy for years to come. Highly recommended.

Tracks: Hey Chico; Somethin' Cute; Rainy Night; Sweet Honey Bee; The Murphy Man; The Double Up.

Players: Lee Morgan (trumpet); Jackie McLean (alto sax); Hank Mobley (tenor sax); Cedar Walton (piano); Paul Chambers (bass); Billy Higgins (drums).

Wes Montgomery
(Verve Master Editions)

Bumpin’ was considered commercial trash by the jazz cognoscenti when it was released in 1965; unworthy of guitarist Wes Montgomery’s prodigious talents. Today, when "smooth jazz" is the sound that sells, Bumpin’ probably sounds like what those-who-have-something-to-say-about-it would call ‘traditional jazz’. But let’s be honest – Bumpin’ is, as it was, mood jazz. And this March 1965 date is about the best that’s been made. It floats between lovely romance ("A Quiet Thing," "The Shadow Of Your Smile") and pure lounge corn ("Here’s That Rainy Day," "Con Alma"). And just as it seems about to succumb to overall prettiness, Montgomery heats up with the effervescent blues of Sebesky’s "Musty" and two great versions of his own "Just Walking" (new additions to this CD). The jazz-noir originals, "Bumpin" and "Tear It Down" are, quite frankly, required listening. Both performances stand up well to any one of the guitarist’s more celebrated Riverside performances. Wes, of course, is the only soloist on Bumpin’. But he shines in a most expectedly satisfying way. And Roger Kellaway (piano), Bob Cranshaw (bass) and Grady Tate (drums) form a fine, cushioning rhythm section. Don Sebesky contributes sensitive orchestral flourishes (and a very enlightening set of liner notes) and gets the only features other than Montgomery’s – often with a sometimes provocative/sometimes corny use of harp as counterpoint. Sebesky, in his first of five records with the guitarist, is really much more a sensitive musical partner of Montgomery’s than Johnny Pate, Claus Ogerman or even Oliver Nelson (who made a somewhat more interesting record with Montgomery the following year, Goin’ Out Of My Head). The Montgomery-Sebesky collaboration is heard at its best here. Bumpin’ is recommended to the guitarist’s aficionados and lovers of first-rate sixties’ NYC studio jazz. Homer Simpson would simply call it "sacrilicious."