With the emergence of CTI Masterworks and the firing salvo of its comprehensive, four-CD box set, CTI RecordsThe Cool Revolution (2010), CTI Records is back and better than ever. With upgraded sound and packaging that lovingly recreates, albeit in reduced size, the label's beautiful gatefold covers, its first batch of remastered reissues includes some of its best-loved classics, including trumpeter Freddie Hubbard
Hubbard, Turrentine and Laws were all part of the CTI All Stars that CTI producer/label head Creed Taylor put together for a couple of large-scale concerts in 1971an innovation in itself, at a time when jazz was still largely relegated to small clubs. California Concert was first released in 1971 as a two-LP set, but that was only part of the picture, with just five tracks, and onethe title track to Red Claysplit over two sides, despite being only 14 minutes in duration. Various CD releases of California Concert have shown up over the years, but none have matched CTI Masterworks' sonically upgraded and significantly expanded edition.
With a fluid nonet that also included guitarist George Benson
, Taylor's CTI All Stars was just as ready for a gently funky reading of singer/songwriter James Taylor's enduring "Fire and Rain," from Laws' Afro-Classic (1970) , as it was an incendiary version of Carole King's equally massive hit, "It's Too Late," here delivered with soulful conviction by Hammond, from his Breakout (Kudu, 1971). Previously only available as a bonus track on an earlier reissue of Breakout, now restored to its rightful place "It's Too Late" features Hubbard, Turrentine and Crawford sounding more Muscle Shoals than Blue Note, and sports lengthy and exhilarating solos from Benson, Hammond and, in tandem, Cobham and Moreira.
Along with "Impressions," this generous double-disc edition of California Concert also includes a previously unreleased version of Miles Davis
' often-covered "So What," originally arranged by Benson for Beyond the Blue Horizon and, in its bright tempo, a sharp contrast the cooler, more relaxed reading Carter's would deliver on 1974's Spanish Blue. Trimmed down to a hornless quintet and strictly a solo feature for the guitarist, it shifts tempo and groove throughout its seven minutes, and positions Benson as an instrumentalist of staggering virtuosity and broad imagination, before the lure of greater stardom began to shift his balance towards vocal music a couple years later. Another previously unreleased track, Hubbard's 20-minute version of the title tune to his Red Clay follow-up, Straight Life, released later that same year (1970) , closes out California Concert's second disc. A simplistic, two-chord vamp of a tune, perhaps, but one that smokes with the trumpeter's effortless soaring into the stratosphere and harmonic shuffles inside and outside the harmonic centermirrored by Benson's similarly steep cascadesproving that it's possible to push limits without losing approachability.
Elsewhere, Turrentine gets to strut on "Sugar" which, based on the applause at the beginning of the tunebefore the familiar melody had even begunwas already well-known by The Hollywood Palladium's audience. Eumir Deodato's "Blues West," performed here for the first time, suggests that, while he would ultimately hit gold with his pop-version of Richard Strauss' "Also Sprach Zarathustra" (popularized by director Stanley Kubrick's 1967 epic, 2001: A Space Odyssey) and have to live up to that commercial high water mark ever after, the Brazilian compose/pianist was absolutely comfortable in more straight-ahead environs. This mini-big band epic (nearly 21 minutes long) is a powerfully swinging blues vehicle for the entire nonet, most notably Carter, whose relatively brief solo is the epitome of groove-laden lyricism. And the bossa-tinged "Leaving West," written by Carter and Turrentine especially for this performance, alludes to the Latin side of CTI records, already clear with composer/mutli-instrumentalist/singer Antonio Carlos Jobim
. Benson, in particular, stands out for the bluesy bends that, peppered throughout his intensifying solo that had begun to desert his approachand, based on this performance, sadly so.
Two-and-a-half hours of easy-on-the-ears but never less than substantive music from nine musicians who would, for a relatively brief period in time, become almost synonymous with Creed Taylor's CTI imprint. Beautifully remastered, with liner notes from Bob Belden that place the album and CTI in historical context, California Concert dovetails with CTI RecordsThe Cool Revolution as perfect places to start, for those who missed out on the label back in the dayand terrific news for those who thought they'd heard it all before.
Tracks: CD1: Impressions; Fire and Rain; Red Clay; Blues West; So What. CD2: Here's That Rainy Day; It's Too Late; Sugar; Leaving West; Straight Life.
Personnel: Freddie Hubbard: trumpet and flugelhorn (CD1#1, CD1#3-4; CD2#1-3, CD2#5); Hubert Laws: flute (CD1#1-2, CD1#4, CD2#1, CD2#3); Hank Crawford: alto saxophone (CD1#1, CD1#4, CD2#1-2); Stanley Turrentine: tenor saxophone (CD1#1, CD1#3-4, CD2); George Benson: guitar; Johnny Hammond: organ and electric piano (CD1, CD2#1-3, CD2#5); Ron Carter: bass; Billy Cobham: drums; Airto Moreira: percussion (CD1, CD2#2-5).