Alto saxophonist and Ray Charles’ onetime musical director Hank Crawford had a keen ear for incorporating R&B influences into jazz, making him a perfect addition to Creed Taylor’s CTI roster. At CTI’s Kudu imprint, Taylor encouraged his jazz artists to court the mainstream while still staying true to their artistry and musicianship, and in the process, his label released some of the best fusion jazz with funk, soul and pop influences. Crawford’s third and fourth albums with Taylor, 1973’s Wildflower and 1974’s Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing, have just been reissued on one CD from Cherry Red’s Robinsongs imprint.
Crawford’s tenure at Kudu, which lasted from 1972 to 1978, was sandwiched between two similarly impressive label stints. He began his career as a leader at Atlantic, where he remained from 1960 to 1971. Following his time at Kudu, Crawford’s next major label affiliation was with Milestone. He remained with the label from 1982 through 2001, with just a handful of outside projects. Though surrounded at Kudu by the label’s virtual house band of esteemed players (including Bob James, Joe Beck, Idris Muhammad, Ron Carter, Joe Farrell and others), Crawford hardly changed the blueprint he established at Atlantic, blending original compositions with soul-jazz covers of the day’s pop and R&B hits. Crawford brought his full range of experience, from bop to blues, to his recordings with producer Taylor.
1973’s Wildflower contained just five tracks – one original (“Mr. Blues”) and four “cover” songs encompassing one standard and three contemporary cuts. Bob James arranged and conducted the sessions recorded at Rudy Van Gelder’s New Jersey studio, playing electric piano, clavinet and the ARP synthesizer. The top-tier team of musicians featured Richard Tee on piano and organ, Idris Muhammad on drums, Joe Beck on electric guitar and Ralph MacDonald on percussion. The album opens with Crawford’s sizzling reinterpretation of Carole King’s then-recent, Latin-flecked “Corazon,” first recorded by the singer-songwriter on her Fantasy album. Stevie Wonder and Syreeta Wright’s “You Got It Bad Girl” emanated from Wonder’s 1972 Talking Book LP. The title track, written by Doug Edwards and Dave Richardson, was first recorded in 1972 by Canadian group Skylark. The band notched its only hit when “Wildflower” reached the top of the Adult Contemporary chart and No. 9 on the pop survey. Crawford reached back considerably further for the ballad “Good Morning Heartache,” first recorded by Billie Holiday in 1946.
After the jump: the scoop on Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing plus the full tracklist and order links!
Bob James returned to arrange and conduct Crawford’s 1974 follow-up Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing, so named for another Stevie Wonder song which had reached No. 2 R&B/No. 16 Pop earlier in the year. Crawford’s clear sax tone states the melody in the spirited opening track, with its blasting brass and dizzying melodic explorations of which Wonder would likely have been proud. Tee, Muhammad and MacDonald all returned from Wildflower, and were joined by Bernard Purdie on drums, Ron Carter on bass, Joe Farrell on flute and tenor saxophone, and Randy Brecker on trumpet and flugelhorn. Crawford showed off his many sides on this collection, from the slow-burning, late night balladry of “Jana” to the greasy romp “Sho’ is Funky,” both of which were co-written by Crawford and James. A third composition from the Crawford/James partnership, “Groove Junction,” and another Stevie Wonder cut, the beautiful “All in Love is Fair,” rounded out the concise five-song collection.
Both of these albums have been on CD before, but they have been remastered by Alan Wilson for this reissue. In addition, Steven E. Flemming, Jr. has provided copious liner notes drawing on new interviews with Bob James and Randy Brecker. Hopefully Robinsongs will consider releasing Crawford’s later Kudu output on CD down the road; for now, you can order Wildflower/Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing at the links below!
Hank Crawford, Wildflower/Don't You Worry 'Bout a Thing (Robinsongs, 2014) (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)
- Mr. Blues
- You’ve Got It Bad Girl
- Good Morning Heartache
- Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing
- All in Love is Fair
- Sho’ is Funky
- Groove Junction
Tracks 1-5 from Wildflower, Kudu LP KU-15, 1973
Tracks 6-10 from Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing, Kudu LP KU-19, 1974
Thom Hickey says
Thanks joe. Good to see someone like Hank getting the credit he deserves for decades of fine committed musicianship! Regards thom