Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Label Feature 2 - CTI and KUDU Records

I intended on writing this post once I found my 100th CTI title, though laziness set in once I attained my goal. At 105 Creed Taylor related releases in my hand, I thought it was time to shed some light on a few labels that revolutionized the smooth jazz/soul jazz sound of the 70’s.

Arranger Artie Shaw only released one solo album in his career- what a cover he chose!

Producer Creed Taylor worked for many important labels in the 60’s. When with ABC/Paramount in late 50’s, his entrepreneurial side was telling him to take a leap of faith. Having a slew of recording artists that had found his approach to constructing albums refreshing (Shorter songs without loosing the ‘feel’ of the improvised approach), he decided to found his own label, Impulse. As a subsidiary of ABC, he was able to use a rich jazz roster that he had been fortunate in mustering up over his first few years as producer. It was Creed that was responsible for signing Coltrane to Impulse, a label he would write over 20 albums under.

Leaving Impulse within a year of its creation to produce for Verve, he then began blurring the line between a Jazz and pop sound, a fusion he would experiment with for decades to come. He stayed with Verve until late 67, when he was enticed by monster label A&M to join forces. Partly due to their offer to allow him to begin his own subsidiary, CTI (Creed Taylor Incorporated), Creed gladly accepted and began producing the likes of Antonio Carlos Jobim (best known for writing ‘Girl from Ipanema’) and Wes Montgomery. A&M released CTI titles until 69, when CTI became his solo enterprise.

The look of CTI when released as a A&M Subsidiary had a significantly different look,

though Turner still contributed to the album art.

This is the most famous incarnation of the CTI Label- the '6000 series'

My relationship with CTI is interesting. I bought a jazz collection about 7 years ago (Keep in mind that I’m 28) and found a very interesting album by Joe Farrell (Let me go throw the LP on… I’m back!). “Upon This Rock” ,1973, changed me from a ‘I only like Progressive Rock and Hard Psych’ into a jazz loving freak. Needless to say it isn’t a ‘smooth jazz’ LP that the label has been known for. Though a jazz album at its core, this album has many rock infused sections, often at the helm of drummers Jim Madison and Steve Gadd (if you don’t know Gadd’s work- shame on you. Now go sift through over 1,000 appearances!) In a lot of ways the album reminded me of the Mahivishnu Orchestra in their verbose arrangements, and the detailed licks that all band members could push through in sequence. Sax/Flutist Farrell works well with Guitar Virtuoso Joe Beck, who doubled the lead lines on almost every cut. Listening to the second track “I Won’t be back’ reminds me why I love this label so much. Creed produces such exciting artists- almost all of the albums on CTI have this sense of urgency. They’re all traveling so fast, trying to avoid coming undone, yet they only word I can think of to describe them is ‘tight’.

Farrell's Upon This Rock- The one that started it all for me!

CTI titles can be easy to spot. Creed hired his old friend Pete Turner to supply images for most of the covers. Known for shooting images in extreme close up, often bright and out of place, his photographs were almost always juxtaposed with a letterbox the sported title/artists name. The ‘consistency in branding’ philosophy that Creed held has been a staple since his introduction of Impulse a decade prior. Pete had been doing covers for Creed since the 50’s, and continued to supply him art until CTI’s fold. In 2006 Rivoli Press released ‘The Color of Jazz’, which showed on the critical albums that Turner was apart of; though now out of print, several copies have been known to surface on Ebay.

Bob James recorded numerous albums for CTI, both as an arranger and solo artist.

This is his toughest to find- and best!

Joe Farrell's most funky effort, Canned Funk.

Airto's Fingers gives you a taste of Brazilian percussion.

Nothing strange about this Desmond album- Doing what he does best- Strait up jazz!

One of Pete Turner's most famous covers, Milt Jackson's Sunflower.

Back to the music- Weather you are a fan of smooth jazz, brazilian rhythms, or the fusion of Jazz and pop, Creed had his hand in many pockets. His philosophy was always about making jazz accessible for the masses. He was sick of the lack of marketing, or ‘image’ that ‘supported’ so many jazz musicians in the 60’s. Creed helped bring this wave of jazz into the consumers hands. Brazilian keyboardist Deodato recorded numerous albums under Creed’s supervision, both as band leader and sideman. His first CTI title ‘Prelude’ became the label’s biggest financial hit, winning the 1970 Grammy for Best Pop Instrumental Performance for the track Also Sprach Zarathurstra.

Ron Carter, known for his bass playing on Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock albums, has a personal catelog of almost 2,500 studio recordings- making him the 3rd most recorded bassest in music history. On CTI, he was at his best. ‘Blues Farm’, released late 73, stands in my highest regard. Billy Cobhan, Hubert Laws (whom has several CTI titles of his own) Richard Tee, Bob James and Ralph MacDonald play on this masterpiece. The title track is a fun funk/soul tune, which clocks in just over 8 minutes. One of the harder to find CTI titles due to its poor sales at the time, this is a must have.

Deodato still remains one of my favourite CTI artists, though not for his Prelude album. ‘2’, released several weeks after Carter’s ‘Blues Farm’, has some of the funkiest breaks, lead-lines, and solos I have ever heard (keep in mind this is coming from a person with a 4,000+ record collection). Packed with killer session players (Stanley Clarke, Billy Cobham, and John Tropea to name a few), Deodato continues with his ‘classical turns funk’ style that made him famous on Prelude. Gershwin’s ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ still remains one of my favourite tracks that Creed has ever produced.

Deodato's 2- His best in my opinion

In 1971 Creed started a sister label, KUDU, where the focus could be soul Jazz. Bringing in B3 giant Johnny Hammond, Sax player Hank Crawford, and the soulful Esther Philips, Creed began to change the sound of music once again. KUDU seems to be one of the most sampled jazz labels- with sections appearing on many classic R&B and Hip Hop albums in the 90’s.

KUDU 01- Johnny Hammond's Breakout - The breakout album for the KUDU label.

In the mid 70’s Creed began to loose control of his enterprise. Starting several more subsidiaries to keep himself a float, he eventually declared bankruptcy in 78.

So here’s to a decade of the most riveting music released. I urge anyone who hasn’t heard of this label to give them a shot, it just might change how you listen. I also would like to encourage many older hipsters out there to dust off their CTI LP’s and give them another listen. Many of them have been lost or forgotten, which is a bloody shame.

Though this list of titles is my ‘top’ likes, check them all out. It is the only label I will buy anything from, even if I haven’t heard it yet. Happy listening!

Airto – Fingers (1973, CTI 6028)

Ron Carter – Blues Farm ( 1973, CTI 2027)

Hank Crawford – Hank Crawford’s Back (1976, KUDU 33)

Paul Desmond – Pure Desmond (1974, CTI 6059)

Deodato – 2 (1973, CTI 6029)

Joe Farrell – Penny Arcade (1973, CTI 6034)

Joe Farrell – Upon this Rock (1973, CTI 6042)

Joe Farrell – Canned Funk (1975, CTI 6053)

Johnny Hammond- Breakout (1971, KUDU 01)

Freddie Hubbard – First Light (1971, CTI 6013)

Freddie Hubbard- Keep Your Soul Together (1973, CTI 6036)

Bob James – One (1974, CTI 6043)

Esther Phillips- Black-Eyed Blues (1973, KUDU 14)

105 titles and counting!

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