Stanley Turrentine, George Benson, Idris Muhammad, Hubert Laws, Milt Jackson, Johnny Hammond, and Joe Farrell
Reviewed by Jay Trachtenberg, Fri., May 10, 2002
Long before Kenny G and smooth jazz, there was CTI. Despised by jazz purists of the day for its unabashed commercialization of tried-and-true artists vis-à-vis the inclusion of electric keyboards, syrupy orchestrations, and heavy-handed production, producer Creed Taylor nonetheless found a potent formula for undeniable success. With this first crop of CTI reissues, in hindsight and despite the naysayers, many of these titles have proved remarkably substantive 30 years hence, especially with Seventies funk all the rage these days. Blues 'n' groove sax stylist Stanley Turrentine captures the quintessential CTI sound on Sugar. Turrentine's facility melding artistic integrity and commercial sensibility makes this one of the label's true classics. Likewise, guitarist George Benson hits pay dirt on Body Talk, successfully combining quicksilver licks with an often horn-heavy, slick-but-streetwise production. Now-ubiquitous New Orleans drummer Idris Muhammad was still an apprentice when he stepped out front on the Bob James-arranged Power of Soul. His fonky stickwork is at the heart of this session, dominated by a scorching take on the Jimi Hendrix-penned title track. Houston flutist Hubert Laws teamed with producer Don Sebesky and an all-star cast to retool Stravinsky, Debussy, and Bach on The Rite of Spring. Laws returns as a foil to vibraphonist Milt Jackson on the latter's mundanely straight-ahead Goodbye. Another all-star affair finds organist Johnny Hammond leading the charge on Breakout, a soulful and unencumbered set of pop tunes and originals. The jewel of this lot is the eye-popping Moon Germs from unsung saxophone giant Joe Farrell. Atypical of most CTI fare in its disregard of commercial niceties, the soprano-blowing Herbie Hancock, Stanley Clarke, and Jack DeJohnette go for broke in combining the spirit of free jazz with the electricity of jazz fusion, movements to which they had all contributed to in one form or another. Look for the next batch of sample-ready CTI reissues to come out this summer.