Wednesday, November 2, 2011

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

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.

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