Lonnie Smith and Johnny Hammond: Organ Explorers Of The Kudu Kind
When the 40th Anniversary celebration of Creed Taylor's CTI Records began, the focus fell on the label's flagship artists and classic albums, but the final wave of releases shines a light on some neglected works that are only now seeing their first U.S. release on CD. The four CDs that bring this celebration to an endwhich include organists Lonnie Smith's Mama Wailer and Johnny Hammond's Wild Horses Rock Steady, the subjects of this reviewalso differ from the other albums that returned to the marketplace as part of the CTI Masterworks campaign, in that they were all originally released on KuduCTI's soul-leaning sister label.
Both labels relied on a formula that mixes jazz, rock, funk and pop in liberal fashion, but CTI albums were usually more ambitious productions that were conceived with specific artistic aims in mind. Kudu releases, on the other hand, often leaned toward the soul-jazz side of the music in a more organic fashion. One of these two albums plays up to Kudu conventions while the other veers closer to CTI standards, but both releases deserve to be heard.
While many artists who recorded for CTI or Kudu would develop lengthy tenures at these labels, Lonnie Smith wasn't one of them. Mama Wailer, which was the second album ever released on the Kudu imprint, was Smith's only release for the label, and the four numbers on the program highlight the groove-is-of-paramount-importance philosophy that underscored much of Kudu's output.
The rhythmic foundation of "Mama Wailer," which is one of two pieces that Smith contributed to the album, sounds remarkably Santana-like, but Marvin Cabell's soulful tenor saxophone work and Smith's outré clavinet soloing paint a different picture on top. "Hola Muneca," which mixes soul, rock and boogaloo ideas, allows Smith to stretch out on organ, and Carole King's "I Feel The Earth Move" is high energy funk that's driven by Billy Cobham's drumming.
The final track on the albuma Smith-arranged take on Sly and The Family Stone's "Stand"is a sprawling funk-soul fest that takes up half of the album's thirty-five minute running time. While this number has the potential to become tiresome, the music manages to sustain interest because of the strong groove elements at hand and the musical personalities at play. Smith delivers tasty overdubbed organs in one section and alien-sounding elements in another, Grover Washington Jr. contributes some searing saxophone work when the music kicks into overdrive, and Cobham is superb as he steers the band through this lengthy journey. With Mama Wailer finally making it onto CD in the U.S., younger fans of Smith, who may only know him through his latter day successes on the Palmetto label, and longtime admirers alike, will now have an opportunity to hear and hold a decades-old musical artifact from one of the true originals of the organ world.
Wild Horses Rock Steady
While Smith didn't make Kudu his home for very long, Johnny Hammond hung out long enough to make several strong records, and his second album for the label takes its names from Aretha Franklin's "Rock Steady" and Rolling Stones' "Wild Horses," which bookend this six-song program. While Hammond's playing, like that of Smith, is rooted in a soul-jazz aesthetic, they differ in that Smith is more prone to push boundaries, while Hammond usually prefers to paint within the lines.
Keyboard player Bob James was brought on board to provide arrangements for this outing, and his contributions help to class up the proceedings, making the atmosphere surrounding this album a far cry from the let-it-flow feel that characterized Mama Wailer. Light and airy strings, triumphant horns, and a funky rhythm section all merge on "I Don't Know How To Love Him," a martial snare drum introduction and a riff that sounds like it was ripped off from "All Along The Watchtower" introduce James' smartly re-imagined "Wild Horses," and an uplifting "Peace Train" features some strong horn writing that surrounds Hammond's potent organ playing.
Sony Masterworks could have easily called it quits by now on the CTI reissues, but their decision to conclude the 40th anniversary celebration by focusing on some unheralded releases deserving greater recognition was a wise one. Hearing this music helps to provide a more complete picture of Creed Taylor's musical reach while highlighting the work of two terrific organists.
Tracks and Personnel
Tracks: Mama Wailer; Hola Muneca; I Feel The Earth Move; Stand.
Personnel: Lonnie Smith: organ, clavinet (1); Marvin Cabell: tenor saxophone; Dave Hubbard: tenor saxophone; Grover Washington Jr: flute, tenor saxophone; Danny Moore: trumpet, flugelhorn; Ron Carter: bass; Chuck Rainey: bass (3); Billy Cobham: drums; George Davis: guitar; Robert Lowe: guitar (1); Jimmy Ponder: guitar; William King: percussion; Airto Moreira: percussion; Richard Pratt: percussion.
Wild Horses Rock Steady
Tracks: Rock Steady; Who Is Sylvia?; Peace Train; I Don't Know How To Love Him; It's Impossible; Wild Horses.
Personnel: Johnny Hammond: organ, electric piano; Ron Carter: bass; Bill Cobham: drums; Bernard Purdie: drums (1); Omar Clay: percussion; Airto Moreira: percussion; George Benson: guitar; Eric Gale: guitar; Bob Mann: guitar; Melvin Sparks: guitar; Harold Vick: tenor saxophone; Grover Washington Jr.: tenor saxophone; Pepper Adams: baritone saxophone; Wayne Andre: trombone; Al DeRisi: trumpet, flugelhorn; Snooky Young: trumpet, flugelhorn; Julius Brand: violin; Paul Gershman: violin; Emanuel Green: violin; Julius Held: violin; Harry Katzman: violin; Joe Malin: violin; Gene Orloff: violin; Max Pollikoff: violin.