Jackie Cain & Roy Kral: A Wilder Alias
A Wilder Alias
Producer Creed Taylor's 1970s' label, CTI, has had a controversial history. Some of its detractors, averse to the lush sound and embrace of fusion, have been reluctant even to recognize CTI as a jazz label. The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz (Macmillan, 1988 and 1994), for instance, the most authoritative pre-internet compendium of jazz information, contains no potted historynor, more significantly, a biography of Taylor himself.
The second omission suggests that Grove's editors were so hostile to CTI that they were prepared, in retribution, even to "disappear" from their pages a man who had earlier in his career founded jazz's most influential post-Blue Note label, Impulse!, and produced its first half dozen albums. These included such universally acknowledged classics as composer and arranger Gil Evans' Out Of The Cool and saxophonists Oliver Nelson's Blues And The Abstract Truth and John Coltrane's Africa/Brass (all 1961).
CTI did, indeed, produce a fair amount of schlock, but, as Sony's 40th Anniversary reissue program is affirming, it also made many substantial recordings. The summer 2011 quartet of reissues includes two of these: pianist Randy Weston's Blue Moses and vocal duo Jackie Cain and Roy Kral's A Wilder Alias (1974).
Now all but unknown except among hardcore fans of vocal jazz, Cain and Kral are seriously deserving of a revival in interest. They started singing together in Chicago in the mid 1940s, as Jackie & Roy, before joining tenor saxophonist Charlie Ventura in 1948 and recording and touring as part of his Bop For The People band. They married in 1949 and, after spells in Los Angeles and Las Vegas, settled in New York City in 1963.
Both were songwriters as well as singers, and Kral (who passed in 2002) was a gifted pianist and arranger. Lucid and musicianly interpreters of The Great American Songbook, the pair were also virtuosic scat singers. It is no exaggeration to say that they were the equals of Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald and Anita O'Day.
During the 1960s, Cain and Kral recorded in standards and scat vein for a variety of labels, including Verve, where Taylor had moved after leaving Impulse!. When Taylor quit Verve to set up CTI, the pair followed, making the more or less straight-ahead Time & Love in 1972.
And then came A Wilder Alias. Harking back to Evans' album, it might be re-titled Out Of The Blue, for it was unlike anything Cain and Kral had recorded before.
There are five, relatively lengthy tracks, the shortest 4:18 minutes, the longest 10:40. All are originals. There are lyrics for one tune only, with the other four conceived for wordless vocals. Electric piano and bass are used throughout, and the band includes jazz funk and fusion stars drummer Steve Gadd, flautist Hubert Laws and saxophonist Joe Farrell, in 1971 a founder member of Chick Corea's Return to Forever. The liner notes give Kral as the arranger, with "music direction" from Don Sebesky (a Verve and CTI Taylor-stalwart, who arranged Weston's aforementioned Blue Moses).
Despite the sundrenched, albeit dramatic shorescape of the cover art, A Wilder Alias is an emotionally complex album, oftentimes quite dark. The opening title track starts in distinctly edgy mode, and ends with atonal free improvisation by the entire lineup; the closing track, the 10:40 minute "Good And Rich," ends with a dissonant collective chord, again from the entire lineup. Between times, an undercurrent of tension pervades the music, even on the overtly celebratory love song "Niki's Song," the one tune with lyrics. Tempos are mostly fast and urgent. The vocal arrangements, including their rapid-fire scat passages, are generally delivered in unison with the horns, or keyboard and drums, or the whole band, and as much attention is given to rhythm as it is to melody and harmony; even Farrell and Laws' solos sound, at times, quite closely scripted.
An intriguing one-off which reveals new facets with each repeated listening, and further evidence that CTI's oeuvre was a many splendored thing.
Tracks: A Wilder Alias; Niki's Song; Waltz For Dana; The Way We Are; Good And Rich.
Personnel: Jackie Cain: vocal; Roy Kral: vocal, electric piano; Joe Farrell: tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone; Hubert Laws: flute; Roy Pennington: vibraphone; Harvie Swartz: electric bass; Steve Gadd: drums.
Courtesy of Anne Phillips