A Consumer Guide to the Trailing Edge: August, 2011
Recycled Goods (#88)
by Tom Hull
Minor point to start: I picked out the Johnny Griffin albums below (or was it the Gonsalves-Hines?) on a lark, then discovered that pretty much all of the Black Lion catalog is available on Rhapsody. That got me thinking about doing a Series thing, but the catalog is too big to really pull together. Maybe I'll do an overview at some point, but for now I'll kick these two out and see.
The bigger chunk this time is the CTI reissues. I took an interest in them after the box set and California Concert showed up in quite a few 2010 year-end lists. As I never get enough jazz reissues, and I only knew a couple of the records, I expressed interest and the publicist responded with a large package. Then as I neared completion, another batch was released, so I held back and got them too. Should be up to date for now. I imagine there will be more in the future: there are still 49 unreissued albums in CTI's 6000 series, which ran from 1970-76 and includes the 21 reissues reviewed here. They include a few artists not included below. Joe Farrell (7 albums) was the only regular; Bob James had three; Airto Moreira had two (plus a live album with Deodato); with one (or rarely two) albums: Bill Evans, Astrud Gilberto, Allan Holdsworth, Jackie & Roy (2), Gabor Szabo, Randy Weston; and finally, a Gerry Mulligan/Chet Baker Carnegie Hall Concert split into two volumes. There are some Art Farmer sets that came out after 1977, and CTI returned briefly in the early 1980s and early 1990s to little note -- the only later record I've heard is one from 1991 called Afoxé by Ernie Watts and Gilberto Gil, and I scarcely recall it.
Robert Johnson is always a hard call for me, not least because he always winds up sounding more slight than his enormous reputation. Many people who've heard the new set rave about the sound quality, but without comparing against previous versions it doesn't strike me as notable one way or another. Previously I've preferred the 1997 single-CD King of the Delta Blues on the theory that getting everything often gets you too much, but I didn't make that comparison either, so count that as a vote in favor of the new set. But in the end I couldn't bump the grade up, partly because I'm more taken with many of Johnson's contemporaries and antecedents. The best sampling I know of remains Yazoo's 2004 Back to the Crossroads: The Roots of Robert Johnson. Now that's an A record.
The Buddy Holly tribute recycles songs but not recordings. I could have included it in my Rhapsody Streamnotes but I've done tributes here in the past. Was thinking of doing it briefly, but my spleen got the best of me. I don't insist that the only Holly worth hearing is the originals -- I'm still a big fan of Bryan Ferry's These Foolish Things -- but he is someone everyone should become familiar with. And while single-disc comps like 2006's The Definitive Collection (Geffen/Decca/Chronicles) are superlative, there's remarkably little waste in the 2-CD The Buddy Holly Collection: 50 Classic Recordings (1954-59 , MCA, reissued verbatim as Gold in 2005.)
By the way, with this column the records reviewed count has topped 3000 (3018). That only counts the Neil Young review, inadvertently repeated from July but expanded and re-graded, once.
Sorry Bamba: Volume One 1970-1979 (1970-79 , Thrill Jockey): From Mopti in the center of Mali, b. 1938, still alive in Paris where he helped pull together this piece of sonic archaeology. I've yet to find any recognition of his importance back in the day, but he may be obscured by group names (like Group Gombé or Kanaga Orchestra or Bani Jazz), and I don't have access to any substantial reference. He plays trumpet and flute, sings, chants. The cuts are uneven, many horn-driven, some guitar, some mostly percussion -- easy to tag them as primitive, but that's almost what you'd hope to find, some primordial prehistory to the Rail Band and Les Ambassadeurs and so many others. A- [R]
Robert Johnson: The Complete Recordings [The Centennial Collection] (1936-37 , Columbia/Legacy, 2CD): Not the original delta blues singer, but such a striking figure he's often taken for the holy grail -- in The Best of the Blues: The 101 Essential Blues Albums, Robert Santelli annointed Johnson's The Complete Recordings as the number one blues album of all time. Born 1911, hence "The Centennial Collection," Johnson cut 16 sides in San Antonio in November 1936, 13 more in Dallas in June 1937, then got shot in August 1938, dead at 27 (like Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix and now poor Amy Winehouse), an instant legend. His voice was high and lonesome, and he had a little guitar trick that has been copied ever since because it instantly signifies the delta blues. The 1990 edition Santelli picked had some annoying problems, especially how the alternate takes came right after the masters so for no obvious reason you'd frequently have to sit through the same song, with virtually nothing to distinguish the versions, twice. Then there was the big box, the sound quality. This edition is an improvement, moving the alternates to the end of each disc, fixing up the sound a bit. A much touted historical figure treated as such, but not so consistent this couldn't be whittled down to a superior single. A-
Paul McCartney: McCartney (1970 , Hear Music, 2CD): First post-Beatles album, pro forma as personal and intimate as John Lennon's Plastic Ono Band, except there's less to see and hear, ultimately because there's less there. Still, the miniatures show the knack of someone who's kicked out viable melodies on demand for the better part of a decade, and while he recycles as much as the next guy, the threads turn into their own game. Actually, the intimacy is welcome decades later -- reminds you why he was once likable -- and when he tries to kick it up a notch, as on "Maybe I'm Amazed," it's nice that he doesn't overdo it. Reissue adds a disc of outtakes, mostly "live at Glasgow" from 1979, which you need even less (the "Women Kind" demo sounds like he was trying to parodize Yoko Ono). B+(*) [R]
Roy Orbison: The Monument Singles: A-Sides (1960-1964) (1960-64 , Monument/Legacy): An unfortunately disparaged period in rock history, but as a preteen at the time one that I feel awfully nostalgic about: enough so that I can finger a handful of now-forgotten contemporaries -- especially Del Shannon, Gene Pitney, Lou Christie -- as personal heroes, but none -- not even Frankie Valli -- had anything like the voice of Orbison. Nobody did, ever. Orbison grew up in Texas, cut a few sides for Sam Phillips at Sun, but didn't come into his own until he signed with Monument and cut "Uptown" -- doo-wop with a twist. For me, the canonical Orbison has long been Rhino's 1988 For the Lonely: 18 Greatest Hits, with two Sun singles up front followed by 13 of Orbison's 17 Monument A-sides, two B-sides ("Candy Man" and "Leah") and one straggler ("Mean Woman Blues"), but like virtually everything else from Rhino's heyday it's out of print. Sony/Legacy's 1999 16 Greatest Hits hit the same high points, and their 40-cut 2006 2-CD The Essential Roy Orbison picked up all of the Rhino cuts and more. (Both are still in print and cheaper, although the former is shorter, and the discontinuously latter tacks on a chunk of Orbison's 1980s comeback For his 75th birthday -- seems like most of the industry's reissues lately have been attached to some hitherto unappreciated but monumental event -- Legacy decided to emphasize Orbison the singles artist, with a 2-CD package with the A-Sides on one disc, the B-Sides on the other. (Plus a DVD -- how can you have an event these days without dropping a DVD into the mix?) They sent me the promo sheet on that package, but not the package itself. Instead, they substituted the single-CD A-Sides-only package, but I couldn't be happier. The four A-sides not on the Rhino include "Falling," and the three non-single bonus tracks are a plus. The only cut I particularly miss is "Candy Man," and I do recall that with Orbison more is not necessary more -- he could slip precipitously on the wrong song, as was amply demonstrated in 2006 when Legacy reissued the Monument LPs. Don't know what they did to the sound, but this is even more magnificent than I remember. A
Rave On: Buddy Holly (2011, Hear Music): A masterpiece of modern niche marketing, picking over the faintly remembered teen pop genius from Lubbock, auctioning off the songs to the highest bidder -- even if that means Julian Casablancas gets the title cut -- mixing them together with no concern for flow or consistency figuring the latte-buyers will splurge if they find even a single appealing combo. There are a few, like Lou Reed on "Peggy Sue" (fortunately followed by John Doe's "Peggy Sue Got Married," the one case where two consecutive songs fit), but it mostly comes off as perverse -- nowhere so much as Paul McCartney doing his James Brown shtick on "It's So Easy"; some other oddities: Cee-Lo Green's slicked-back "Baby, I Don't Care"; Patti Smith's solemn "Words of Love"; Graham Nash's dainty "Raining in My Heart." Even when something works you'll never want to hear it again. B- [R]
Neil Young: International Harvesters: A Treasure (1984-85 , Reprise): The ninth of what promises to be a very long series of new albums curried from old live tapes, this one catching Young's return to country roots after a few years kicking about eclectically, trying out everything from vocal synthesizers to soul horns. The next album was Old Ways, which solidified his return to Harvest-country, but this rocks much harder, framing period songs in cascades of electric twang. The International Harvesters could be taken as his band name, but paperwork for posterity is cleaner if we parse it/them into the title. A- [R]
CTI Records was a jazz label that operated from 1967-78. It was named for and run by Creed Taylor, who built up his reputation as a jazz master as a founder of Impulse! and as a producer for Verve. At first, CTI was a subsidiary of A&M, founded in 1962 by Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss, who spun it off as an independent in 1971. A&M, including CTI's 1967-70 catalog, wound up in the clutches of Universal Music, as did the sister label Kudu, but Taylor's post-1970 catalog wound up in the Sony BMG empire. Some of the records have been fairly regularly in print, but many more reappeared when Sony BMG's classical division started reissuing them last year under its Masterworks Jazz imprint. Everything they've reissued to date is reviewed below except for a 4-CD box set.
I can't say as I've ever thought Taylor was a particularly interesting figure in jazz history. He was born 1929 in Virginia. Studied at Duke, and played trumpet in a local band called the Five Dukes. He spent a couple of years in the Marines, then went back to Duke for graduate study. Before long he was off to New York, where he parlayed a college connection into a producing job at Bethlehem. In 1956 he moved on to ABC-Paramount, where he helped launch their Impulse! jazz subsidiary in 1960, then moved on to Verve in 1961. Not sure how much credit to give him for Impulse! He signed John Coltrane, who turned out to be by far the label's most important artist, but others like Ray Charles and Gil Evans turned out to have minor impact (at least at Impulse!). And if anything he's best remembered for Impulse!'s logo and graphics.
At Verve, his biggest coup was Stan Getz and the bossa nova craze, which hooked him into Antonio Carlos Jobim, Astrud Gilberto, and others who would eventually become important to CTI. In 1967 he moved to A&M and set up shop as CTI, producing one of Jobim's best albums (Wave), and several of Wes Montgomery's worst. And he discovered George Benson, another CTI mainstay. When CTI went independent, he picked up Ron Carter (who plays on virtually every CTI album), Don Sebesky (a big band arranger who figures in many albums), Benson, flautist Hubert Laws, keyboardist Bob James, and many others. His most talented stars were Freddie Hubbard and Stanley Turrentine, both refugees from Blue Note's stellar stretch in the early 1960s. One can argue whether Taylor was trying desperately to save jazz, or whether he contributed to killing it. Jazz had reached a postwar peak of sorts around 1960 when virtually the entire tradition from Louis Armstrong to Ornette Coleman was on display in relatively peak form. By the early 1970s major figures were gone or fading fast while rock, especially from the Beatles on, had upset the business on its way to hegemony.
In the 1970s the avant-garde went underground, jazz musicians of all stripes went to Europe, Miles Davis survived on fusion, and, well, what? Taylor went upscale, with classy gatefold packaging, and sprinkled the music with all sorts of fairy dust: fusion keyboards, superslick guitar, Brazilian percussion, Sebesky's strings and oboes. Sounds like a lot of clutter these days -- probably did then, too, especially as you didn't have to look back far to find Hubbard's Blue Notes. Still, well, here's history.
Chet Baker: She Was Too Good to Me (1974 , CTI/Masterworks Jazz): A lot of names on the front cover -- Hubert Laws and Paul Desmond larger than Bob James, Ron Carter, Steve Gadd, Jack DeJohnette, and "Arranged and Conducted by Don Sebesky" -- but in the end only the matinee idol matters; aside from the occasional Desmond solo, it's all shading and backdrop; Baker sings four tunes, plays his charming little trumpet on all eight, has a nice outing despite it all. B+(*)
George Benson: White Rabbit (1971 , CTI/Masterworks Jazz): A few years shy of his pop breakthrough, so you can still treat him as a Wes Montgomery wannabe, here covering one of Montgomery's most pathetic covers ("California Dreaming"), Grace Slick, Legrand and Villa-Lobos; Sebesky arranged, focusing on the flutes and oboes this time which steadfastly refuse to emerge from the background. B
George Benson: Beyond the Blue Horizon (1971 , CTI/Masterworks Jazz): A rare album defying all expectations: the organ is mere window dressing, and can fold up and disappear leaving the bass line to Ron Carter; the guitarist almost never invokes Wes Montgomery, either for better or worse; and drummer Jack DeJohnette never boxes himself in; but this starts slow and leaves no strong impressions, only an eclectic vibe. B+(*)
George Benson: Body Talk (1973 , CTI/Masterworks Jazz): Not sure whether this is better or worse for Pee Wee Ellis's horn arrangements: the horns shag but never compete with the guitar line, which means they make for an ordinary background, but Benson's leads offer no surprises either -- only a better than average phrasing of what he's been doing all along. B
Kenny Burrell: God Bless the Child (1971 , CTI/Masterworks Jazz): The guitarist can't quite escape Sebesky's black-tie cello arrangements, but it helps when he accents his blue notes, when Ray Barretto tricks up the rhythm track, and especially when Freddie Hubbard adds a contrasting tone. B+(*)
California Concert: The Hollywood Palladium (1971 , CTI/Masterworks Jazz, 2CD): The label's showcase group, sort of the jazz equivalent of a package show, one where the individual stars play with each other (mostly), with a few concessions to economic reality -- e.g., not cost-effective to truck around Don Sebesky or his strings and winds; they do at least have a cohesive group sound, tied at the bottom with Ron Carter's bass, Billy Cobham's drums, Airto Moreira's percussion, and especially George Benson's streamlined guitar groove; Johnny Hammond plays organ and electric piano, Hank Crawford slips in some alto sax, but the headliners are Freddie Hubbard on trumpet and Stanley Turrentine on tenor sax, both more than capable of warming up a crowd; with three cuts that eluded previous 2-LP and 1-CD reissues. B+(**)
Ron Carter: All Blues (1973 , CTI/Masterworks Jazz): Bassist, best known for his work with Miles Davis, composed 4 of 6 tracks here but the Davis title track is the sweet spot; Roland Hanna and Billy Cobham make it mostly a piano trio, except with Joe Henderson appears -- even then he plays along rather than taking charge. B
Deodato: Prelude (1972 , CTI/Masterworks Jazz): Brazilian pianist, had some bossa nova records in the 1960s before coming to America and producing this novelty fusion extravaganza, with its opening hook a sambafied take on "Also Sprach Zarathustra"; Taylor threw everything he had into the mix: strings, brass, flutes, two French horns, a lot of electric guitar and bass, and a gaggle of percussionists -- Billy Cobham, Airto Moreira, and Ray Barretto; biggest surprise is that it mostly holds together. B+(**)
Paul Desmond: Pure Desmond (1974 , CTI/Masterworks Jazz): The alto saxophonist at his most gorgeous, but hardly pure given how much space is given over to the easy gait and shimmery tone of Ed Bickert's guitar; Ron Carter and Connie Kay keep time, never letting anyone break a sweat. B
Jim Hall: Concierto (1975 , CTI/Masterworks Jazz): An unassuming back-to-basics guy, called his first (1957) album Jazz Guitar, and was still trying to establish himself when Taylor handed him this blank check; too much talent to balance, with Roland Hanna's piano as prominent as the leader's guitar, alto saxophoist Paul Desmond largely wasted, but Chet Baker's trumpet is memorable, a nice fit. B+(***)
Freddie Hubbard: Red Clay (1970 , CTI/Masterworks Jazz): Half-hearted as a fusion move -- Herbie Hancock plays electric piano like an acoustic but the loss of resonance scarcely matters at this pace -- but the trumpeter blasts away like hard bop at its most hearty, and as if that weren't enough Joe Henderson is champing at the bit, always eager to muscle his way in. A-
Freddie Hubbard: Straight Life (1970 , CTI/Masterworks Jazz): Title cut picks up where Red Clay left off with a 17:27 romp where Joe Henderson's tenor sax adds muscle to Hubbard's brass and Herbie Hancock and George Benson keep a groove roiling; tails off a bit after that, and gives up after the original LP's 36:10 with no bonus tracks. B+(***)
Freddie Hubbard: First Light (1971 , CTI/Masterworks Jazz): What made Hubbard the hottest trumpet anywhere in the early 1960s was his versatility: hard bop, avant-garde, when Herbie Hancock wanted to cut his own Miles Davis Quintet album Hubbard not only filled the bill, he offered a step up; so no surprise that he is brilliant here, it what is otherwise a ridiculous set up, with Don Sebesky's strings and winds toadying in the background to songs as absurd as "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey"; two bonus cuts, one a live take with a small group. B+(*)
Milt Jackson: Sunflower (1972 , CTI/Masterworks Jazz): The names on the front cover promise lively postbop around the vibes -- Herbie Hancock, Freddie Hubbard, Ron Carter, Billy Cobham -- but the label promises a lot of Don Sebesky goup, sparing neither the strings nor the woodwinds; net result is a very easy listening trumpet album, the vibes neither cute nor schmaltzy. B
Antonio Carlos Jobim: Stone Flower (1970 , CTI/Masterworks Jazz): Lush and dreamy at best, more often overgrown and muddled, with Jobim's gentle voice caressed by Eumir Deodato's unnamed strings, floating on the blips of his own electric piano, nudged on by Airto Moreira's percussion, engaging only if you reach out for it. B
Hubert Laws: Morning Star (1972 , CTI/Masterworks Jazz): Flautist, cut a couple albums for Atlantic before Creed Taylor adopted him; Don Sebesky goes whole hog here, including vocals as well as strings and his bassoon fetish, although you could miss the mild brass colorings; Laws tries to keep it tastefully cosmological, something he wasn't always able to manage. B-
Hubert Laws: In the Beginning (1974 , CTI/Masterworks Jazz): Originally a 2LP, the flautist's major league move taps Satie and trad, Rollins and Coltrane, adding one original ("Mean Lene"), and brings in Ronnie Laws for some tenor sax muscle behind the flute; strings are down to one each, percussion up to Airto and Dave Friedman's vibes, Bob James yucking it up on electric piano; still, the leads fall on the flute, which isn't really up to them. B
Don Sebesky: Giant Box (1973 , CTI/Masterworks Jazz): Arranger, came up through the Stan Kenton band, hooked up with Creed Taylor at Verve where he dropped Don Sebesky and the Jazz-Rock Syndrome, then moved on to CTI where he had a hand in a couple dozen records; this originally came out in a 2-LP box, not so giant then and less so neatly fit onto a single CD; cover lists a dozen featured artists, with Freddie Hubbard listed first and the standout; music from Stravinsky, Rachmaninoff, Joni Mitchell, John McLaughlin, and Jimmy Webb (trying his hand at gospel), plus three Sebesky originals; a mixed bag, with sublime stretches and odd patches -- at least here he's taking credit instead of messing up someone else's record, and stuck with the credit he's on his best behavior. B
Stanley Turrentine: Sugar (1970 , CTI/Masterworks Jazz): Soul jazz man, cut his best records with cheezy organ and down-home grit, gets a little fancy this time -- electric piano and Ron Carter bass along with the organ, congas in addition to the drums, some of George Benson's tastiest guitar and the extra spit and polish of Freddie Hubbard's trumpet, which ultimately puts the record over the top -- also the bonus cuts, since this is music that needs to stretch out. A-
Stanley Turrentine: Salt Song (1971 , CTI/Masterworks Jazz): The excess -- banks of strings, a chorus on the gospel "I Told Jesus" -- doesn't help but hurt much either: all you need to do is focus on the tenor sax, which is all you will be doing anyway; the title cut is from Milton Nascimento, authenticated by Airto Moreira and Eumir Deodato, and they spliced a second Nascimento tune on as a bonus, which keeps the undertow light and frothy. B+(**)
Stanley Turrentine: Don't Mess With Mister T. (1973 , CTI/Masterworks Jazz): More strings, extra horns, organ along with keybs, Eric Gale guitar, Bob James doing the arranging, but the material sticks to blues basics, and the tenor sax is rarely anywhere but front and center; reissue adds four bonus tracks, as have several previous iterations; title cut, by the way, credited to Marvin Gaye. B+(**)
Paul Gonsalves/Earl Hines: Paul Gonsalves Meets Earl Hines (1970-72 , Black Lion): LP originally listed Hines first, picturing him on the cover under the title It Don't Mean a Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing!, so it's curious that the CD reissue elevated Ellington's postwar tenor saxophonist -- possibly because Gonsalves had so little in print under his own name; the sax sounds thin, and the pianist tends to hold back, emerging delectably on "Blue Sands," his only original here, and his long intro to "I Got It Bad and That Ain't Good." B+(*) [R]
Johnny Griffin: You Leave Me Breathless (1967 , Black Lion): A set recorded live at Montmartre Jazzhuis in Copenhagen with American expats Kenny Drew and Albert Heath plus every traveler's favorite Danish bassist, Niels-Henning Ørsted-Pedersen; starts sloppy with Monk's "Rhythm-A-Ning," but the tenor saxophonist regains his tone and poise on the ballads, he can always run the fast ones, and he ends with a masterful solo stretch. B+(*) [R]
Freddie Hubbard/Ilhan Mimaroglu: Sing Me a Song of Songmy (1971, Atlantic): More the latter's album, although in a long career of making politically charged avant-electronic music this was his only album that got released on a major label; the electronics are nifty, but the strings get messy and the vocal pastiches don't hit their intended targets as squarely as agitprop should; trumpet/flugelhorn is superb, natch, and there's a sharp jazz combo in there somewhere -- Junior Cook (tenor sax), Kenny Barron (piano), Art Booth (bass), Louis Hayes (drums). B+(*) [R]
Freddie Hubbard: Pinnacle: Live & Unreleased From the Keystone Korner (1980 , Resonance): The trumpet great's real career pinnacle was during his 1960-66 Blue Notes, but he worked steadily into the late 1990s, and could always drop a blistering hard bop set like this one -- the extra horns just push him on; cautious here because Rhapsody only delivers 4 of 7 cuts. B+(*) [R]
Paul McCartney: McCartney II (1979 , Hear Music, 2CD): Busted in Japan, having sacked Wings, McCartney crawls back to his farm in Scotland and searches for a new beginning; what he found was a synth, which as usual is more amusing to play than to listen to. C+ [R]
Warren Smith: Dragon Dave Meets Prince Black Knight From the Darkside of the Moon (1988 , Porter): History has taken the cold war fantasies and turned them back into comic book juvenilia, but if you have a penchant for banging and blowing, not to mention the leader's stealth marimba, you can overlook (or occasionally laugh at) the vocal collage; originally released as a cassette no one would hear, but now you can. B+(*)
Sunny Voices (1981-2008 , Sunnyside): Label sampler, a good mainstream jazz that has come up with surprising finds for nearly thirty years but their vocal catalog is a little sketchy, mixing interesting cases like Linda Sharrock and Jeanne Lee along with various Europeans, Latinos, and Africans, mostly painlessly although Milton Nascimento doing "Lady Jane" (actually from Tim Ries' Stones World album) can be hard to take. B-
Legend: B+ records are divided into three levels, where more * is better. [R] indicates record was reviewed using a stream from Rhapsody ([X] is some other stream source). The biggest caveat there is that the packaging and documentation hasn't been inspected or considered, and documentation is especially important for reissues. But also my exposure to streamed records is briefer and more limited, so I'm more prone to snap judgments.
For this column and the previous 87, see the archive.
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Copyright © 2011 Tom Hull.