CTI Celebrates Kudu Legacy: Lonnie Smith, Johnny Hammond, Hank Crawford, Esther Phillips

CTI Celebrates Kudu Legacy:  Lonnie Smith, Johnny Hammond, Hank Crawford, Esther Phillips
Chris May By

Sign in to view read count
CTI Masterworks' 40th anniversary reissue program has, until now, focused on producer Creed Taylor's primary label. Two multi-disc sets and 24 single discs have made available on CD cherished CTI LPs by artists such as trumpeters Chet Baker and Freddie Hubbard, saxophonists Paul Desmond and Stanley Turrentine, guitarists George Benson and Kenny Burrell, vibraphonist Milt Jackson and pianist Randy Weston (the little known 1972 masterpiece Blue Moses). Classy affairs all, on which, typically, Taylor blended strong material, top drawer (if, mostly, abbreviated) soloists, solid backbeats and lush orchestral backings.

The final batch of reissues—four discs originally released between 1971 and 1974—turns the spotlight instead on CTI's funkier imprint, Kudu. Here, while Taylor remained the producer (and Rudy Van Gelder the engineer), the aesthetic was more streetwise than CTI itself—even though Taylor and, on some albums, arranger Bob James, continued to stir in their trademark sweeteners. With Kudu, Taylor struck a fine balance between soul jazz and raw, jazz-inflected funk on the one hand, and sophisticated orchestral arrangements, often including string charts, on the other.

The 40th anniversary's four featured Kudu artists are organists Lonnie Smith (pictured above, more recently) and Johnny Hammond, alto saxophonist Hank Crawford and singer Esther Phillips. Four decades on, their discs still have legs.

Lonnie Smith

Mama Wailer

CTI Masterworks

2011 (1971)

The only disc in the batch not featuring a string ensemble, Mama Wailer has Lonnie Smith stretching out over two originals and two covers (Sly Stone's "Stand" and Carole King's "I Feel The Earth Move"). He takes in Jimmy Smith's founding legacy on the Hammond B-3 and mixes it up with boogaloo (on the opener, "Mama Wailer"), and contemporary funk and psychedelia (on the adventurous 17:20 minute workout, "Stand"), as well as some hard bop.

To make an analogy with a movie of the same year, Mama Wailer is the sort of music the producers could have used in The French Connection, in that early scene where Gene Hackman conducts a drugs shakedown in an uptown bar. Funky as a donkey's tail, but unmistakably urban.

There are cooking solos from Smith—mostly on organ but on funkified clavinet on the title track—and tenor saxophonists Marvin Cabell and Grover Washington Jr. Three guitarists—George Davis, Robert Lowery and Jimmy Ponder—chop and fill over the ostinatos provided by bassists Ron Carter and Chuck Rainey, and drummer Billy Cobham. "Mama Wailer" shows where Lonnie Smith got his Doctor (of groove) moniker from, but the acid-drenched "Stand" is the most intriguing track.

Johnny Hammond

Wild Horses Rock Steady

CTI Masterworks

2011 (1972)

Before Kudu, Johnny Hammond had—as Johnny "Hammond" Smith—been associated for two decades with hard bop and soul jazz on the no-sweeteners Prestige label. Wild Horses Rock Steady was the second of four more elaborately conceived albums he made for Kudu.

To continue the The French Connection analogy, this is the sound you could have heard in the movie's other signature bar, the glitzier one in which Hackman first spots the conspirators in the heroin importation scam. The album, comprising six covers, is down the line soul jazz laced with some of Bob James' funkier horn and string arrangements. Hammond does not venture as far out as Lonnie Smith on the aforementioned "Stand," but he maintains an immaculate groove.

Aretha Franklin's "Rock Steady" opens the disc, with fierce solos from Hammond, tenor saxophonist Grover Washington, Jr. and guitarist Eric Gale, and a crawling, moody string arrangement. Two other standouts are the Broadway show tunes "Who Is Sylvia?" (from 1971's Two Gentleman Of Verona) and "I Don't Know How To Love Him" (from Jesus Christ Superstar, also from 1971). Both are well-crafted songs, and the tension between Hammond's funk and the sweeping strings counterpoints is a delight. "I Don't Know How To Love Him" includes a bitching solo from Gale—slashing, staccato blues-funk.

The album closes with Mick Jagger and Keith Richards' "Wild Horses," with Hammond's strongest solo on the disc and a solid one from either Washington or Harold Vick on tenor. Throughout, Ron Carter is back on bass, as is Billy Cobham on drums (replaced, on "Rock Steady," by Bernard Purdie).

Like Smith's Mama Wailer, an album begging to be kicked back with, but this time on satin sheets.

Hank Crawford

Don't You Worry 'Bout A Thing

CTI Masterworks

2011 (1974)

After high-profile work with singer and keyboardist Ray Charles' bands in the late 1950s and early '60s on alto and baritone saxophones, in 1971 Hank Crawford came to Kudu, where he focused on alto and stayed long enough to make seven albums; Don't You Worry 'Bout A Thing was the fourth.

The music inhabits similar terrain to Hammond's Wild Horses Rock Steady, with the scales tipped further towards Bob James' orchestral arrangements, which again feature strings. There are three originals and two Stevie Wonder covers (the title track and "All In Love Is Fair"). Aside from the wistful "Jana" (Swahili for yesterday), the pace is fast and Crawford's vocalized, bluesy alto the center of attention.

The blinder in a consistently enjoyable set is the penultimate track, "Sho Is Funky," which clocks in at just under 13 minutes. There is a pronounced New Orleans feel to the arrangement—in its rhythm patterns, Hugh McCracken's insistent, scratching guitar, and the sound of horn section, in which bass trombonist Dave Taylor does the tuba duties. Bob James gets convincingly down home on electric piano and Crawford soars. A brief closer, "Groove Junction," allows James and Crawford to foreground their more straight-ahead chops.

Esther Phillips


CTI Masterworks

2011 (1974)

Born in 1935, "Little" Esther Phillips hit soul single pay dirt aged 15, and the hits kept coming through the early 1960s. But sometime in the mid '50s, Phillips picked up a heroin habit, and addiction blighted her career until her death. She continued to record though, and Performance was the fourth of eight albums she made for Kudu between 1972 and 1976.

Unusually for a Kudu or CTI album, Taylor here shared production duties, with Pee Wee Ellis on six tracks and Eugene McDaniels on two. Unlike its stable mates, Performance is also an unabashed blues and soul album, despite the presence of jazz-oriented soloists such as tenor saxophonist Michael Brecker (who lays down an early marker on "Disposable Society") and trumpeter Jon Faddis.

The pace ranges from slow to medium fast, and most of the eight tracks (Jerry Jeff Walker's closing "Mr Bojangles" was not included on the original LP) are about love—or if not love, then at least sex. Composers include Allen Toussaint ("Performance"), Clarence Carter ("Doing Our Thing"), Mac Rebennack ("Such A Night") and Isaac Hayes and David Porter ("Can't Trust Your Neighbor With Your Baby").

Edgier than much of Phillips' work for Kudu, Performance finds the singer convincingly on song, her lived-in voice spanning intimate, growling Eartha Kittlike moments and, more often, expansive, wailing soul, all framed by superb orchestral arrangements and a hardcore rhythm section anchored by drummers Bernard Purdie and Steve Gadd.

Tracks and Personnel

Mama Wailer

Tracks: Mama Wailer; Holy Muneca; I Feel The Earth Move; Stand.

Personnel: Lonnie Smith: clavinet (1), organ; Marvin Cabell: tenor saxophone; Dave Hubbard: tenor saxophone; Grover Washington Jr: tenor saxophone, flute; Danny Moore: trumpet, flugelhorn; George Davis: guitar; Robert Lowe: guitar (1); Jimmy Ponder: guitar; Ron Carter: bass; Chuck Rainey: bass (3); Billy Cobham: drums; 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; Harold Vick: alto saxophone, tenor saxophone; Grover Washington Jr: alto saxophone, tenor saxophone; Pepper Adams: baritone saxophone; Al DeRisi: trumpet, flugelhorn; Snooky Young: trumpet, flugelhorn; Wayne Andre: trombone; George Benson: guitar; Eric Gale: guitar; Bob Mann: guitar; Melvin Sparks: guitar; Ron Carter: bass; Billy Cobham: drums; Bernard Purdie: drums (1); Omar Clay: percussion; Airto Moreira: percussion; Julius Brand: violin; Paul Gershman: violin; Emanuel Green: violin; Julius Held: violin; Harry Katzman: violin; Joe Malin: violin; Gene Orloff: violin; Max Pollikoff: violin.

Don't You Worry 'Bout A Thing

Tracks: Don't You Worry 'Bout A Thing; Jana; All In Love Is Fair; Sho Is Funky; Groove Junction.

Personnel: Hank Crawford: alto saxophone; Phil Bodner: alto flute, piccolo, tenor saxophone; Joe Farrell: flute, tenor saxophone; Jerry Dodgion: flute, tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone; Randy Brecker: trumpet, flugelhorn; Jon Faddis: trumpet, flugelhorn; Alan Rubin: trumpet, flugelhorn; Dave Taylor: bass trombone; Bob James: electric piano, clavinet, Arp; Richard Tee: piano, organ; Hugh McCracken: guitar, harmonica (4); Ron Carter: bass (5); Gary King: bass; Idris Muammad: drums (2, 4, 5); Bernard Purdie: drums (1, 3); Ralph McDonald: percussion, conga; Alexander Cores: violin; Lewis Eley: violin; Max Ellen: violin; Paul Gershman: violin; Emmanuel Green: violin; Charles Libove: violin; Harry Lookofsky: violin; David Nadien: violin; Matthew Raimondi: violin; Al Brown: viola; Manny Vardi: viola; Charles McCracken: cello; George Ricci: cello.


Tracks: I Feel The Same; Performance; Doing Our Thing; Disposable Society; Living Alone (We're Going To Make It); Such A Night; Can't Trust Your Neighbor With Your Baby; Mr Bojangles.

Personnel: Esther Phillips: vocal; Jerry Dodgion: alto saxophone; Mike Brecker: tenor saxophone; Pepper Adams: baritone saxophone; Jon Faddis: trumpet, flugelhorn; John Gatchell: trumpet, flugelhorn; Marvin Stamm: trumpet, flugelhorn; Urbie Green: trombone; Hubert Laws: flute; Bob James: electric piano (4), piano (5); Richard Tee: piano (3, 7), organ (5), tack piano (6); Richard Wyands: piano; Charlie Brown: guitar; Richie Resnicoff: guitar (4, 5); Jon Sholle: guitar (1, 7); Eric Weissberg: steel guitar (2); Gary King: bass; Gordon Edwards: bass (3); Bernard Purdie: drums; Steve Gadd: drums (4, 5); Ralph McDonald: percussion; Pee Wee Ellis: chimes; Patti Austin: background vocals (2, 6); Lani Groves: background vocals (2, 6); J. Denise Williams: background vocals (2, 6); Carl Caldwell: background vocals (3, 5); Robin Clark: background vocals (3, 5); Tasha Thomas: background vocals (3, 5); Max Ellen: violin; Paul Gershman: violin; Emmanuel Green: violin; Charles Libove: violin; Harry Lookofsky: violin; David Nadien: violin; Matthew Raimondi: violin; Manny Vardi: violin, viola; Al Brown: viola; Harold Coletta: viola; Charles McCracken: cello; George Ricci: cello.

Photo Credit

Courtesy Doctor Lonnie Smith

Post a comment




Daniel Thatcher
New Leaves
Dan Rose, Claudine Francois
Steve Swell
A Swingin' Sesame Street Celebration
Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton...
Glenn Close/Ted Nash
Special Edition: Procedural Language
Ivo Perelman & Matthew Shipp
Ever Since The World Ended
Lauren White and the Quinn Johnson Trio
Rah! Rah!
Claire Daly


All About Jazz needs your support

All About Jazz & Jazz Near You were built to promote jazz music: both recorded albums and live events. We rely primarily on venues, festivals and musicians to promote their events through our platform. With club closures, limited reopenings and an uncertain future, we've pivoted our platform to collect, promote and broadcast livestream concerts to support our jazz musician friends. This is a significant but neccesary step that will help musicians and venues now, and in the future. You can help offset the cost of this essential undertaking by making a donation today. In return, we'll deliver an ad-free experience (which includes hiding the sticky footer ad). Thank you!

Get more of a good thing

Our weekly newsletter highlights our top stories and includes your local jazz events calendar.