Cherry Red’s Robinsongs imprint is turning up the Cool Heat with a new 2-CD, 25-track collection celebrating The Best of CTI Records and featuring many of the classic jazz label’s most renowned artists including instrumentalists George Benson, Freddie Hubbard, Hubert Laws, and Stanley Turrentine, and vocalists Nina Simone, Patti Austin, and Esther Phillips.
Chances are, if you think of a jazz artist, it wouldn’t take many degrees of separation to reach Creed Taylor. The esteemed producer began his career at Bethlehem Records overseeing a roster including Herbie Mann, Charles Mingus, Carmen McRae, J.J. Johnson and Kai Winding. In 1956, he departed Bethlehem for ABC-Paramount, where in 1960 he launched the Impulse! label with artists like Johnson, Winding, Ray Charles and John Coltrane. It was at Impulse! that Taylor came into his own, emphasizing that jazz and popular music could indeed co-exist and overlap, and seeing that LP packaging met the high standards of the music within. Taylor didn’t remain at Impulse! long, however. In 1961, he signed with Verve and championed Antonio Carlos Jobim and the bossa nova’s rise in America.
By 1967, Taylor was already a legend in the field when he formed CTI Records, first as a label of Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss’ A&M Records, and then as an independent beginning in 1970. CTI (Creed Taylor Incorporated) went on to define the sound of jazz in the 1970s, and even its look, insisting on lavish gatefold LP covers that stood out from the rest, often adorned with striking photographs, many by Pete Turner. Don Sebesky, who has since gone on to a successful second career as a theatrical orchestrator, was the primary “house arranger,” giving many of the label’s releases a unified musical signature. Rudy Van Gelder recorded and engineered most of the label’s titles in his famed New Jersey studio. And while some purists gave Taylor flack for his “crossover” fusion records and pop covers, CTI’s repertoire has stood the test of time. While the original label folded in the 1980s and has been sporadically reactivated since, CTI’s legacy rests on the 1970s recordings featured here.
CTI’s catholic approach to jazz incorporating R&B, pop, funk, disco, and beyond is evident perusing the track listing of this compilation. Eumir Deodato turned a classical theme into a U.S. top five hit record with his adaptation of Richard Strauss’ “Also Sprach Zarathustra” (the same composition so memorably used by Stanley Kubrick in his cinematic opus 2001: A Space Odyssey). Lalo Schifrin, no slouch as a film and television composer himself, paid tribute to his contemporary John Williams with his take on the ominous, instantly-recognizable theme to Jaws. Bassist Ron Carter looked to the small screen for Dave Grusin and Morgan Ames’ “Keep Your Eye on the Sparrow,” otherwise known as the theme song to detective drama Baretta.
The pop side of the CTI repertoire is represented here with guitarist Gabor Szabo’s take on Carole King’s wistful “It’s Going to Take Some Time.” Original, modern compositions from the label’s stars were also a key part of the label’s success. Arrangers David Matthews and Bob James both contributed to numerous CTI albums other than their own, but as leaders, they’re heard on here on “Shoogie Wanna Boogie” and “Westchester Lady,” respectively. Guitarist Eric Gale’s “Forecast,” organist Johnny Hammond’s “Breakout,” saxophonist Stanley Turrentine’s “Sugar,” and trumpeter Freddie Hubbard’s “Red Clay” are among the other originals here. CTI’s musicians were all part of a family of sorts, frequently playing and supplying songs for each other’s records. Guitarists George Benson and Joe Farrell deliver David Matthews’ “Flute Song” and drummer Idris Muhammad leads his “Could Heaven Ever Be Like This,” while Hubert Laws plays Bob James’ “The Chicago Theme (Love Loop).”
CTI wasn’t known for its vocalists, but a number of great talents did pass through its doors including Esther Phillips, queen of the Kudu imprint. She’s heard on Gil Scott-Heron’s dramatic “Home is Where the Hatred Is.” Session vocalist and songwriter Patti Austin launcher her solo career at CTI; this collection’s “Say You Love Me” was the opening track of her first CTI album, 1976’s End of the Rainbow. Nina Simone came to CTI for just one album: 1978’s Baltimore. Cool Heat features its title track, Simone’s fiery interpretation of Randy Newman’s biting composition.
Charles Waring supplies an informative overview of the label’s history in his liner notes, though one wishes the credits included discographical and personnel annotation as to the original source of each track, as well as the players and arrangers. Alan Wilson has remastered each track. It’s impossible to fully capture the sound of CTI on one 2-CD set, but Cool Heat does a commendable job as a sampler and additionally includes some harder-to-find tracks. Those inclined to look further should seek out the 4-CD box set The Cool Revolution (2010) for an even more comprehensive overview. In the meantime, Cool Heat delivers on its title promise of smooth yet sizzling jazz for a wide audience. It’s available now at the links below!
- Also Sprach Zarathustra – Deodato
- Jaws – Lalo Schifrin
- What a Diff’rence a Day Makes – Esther Phillips
- Could Heaven Ever Be Like This – Idris Muhammad
- Westchester Lady – Bob James
- Shoogie Wanna Boogie – Dave Matthews
- Grand Prix – Fuse One
- The Chicago Theme (Love Loop) – Hubert Laws
- Baretta’s Theme (Keep Your Eye on the Sparrow) – Ron Carter
- Breakout – Johnny Hammond
- Wildflower – Hank Crawford
- Mama Wailer – Lonnie Smith
- Say You Love Me – Patti Austin
- Supership – George Benson
- Baltimore – Nina Simone
- Follow Your Heart – Joe Farrell
- Be Yourself – Kenny Burrell
- Forecast – Eric Gale
- Polar AC – Freddie Hubbard
- Flute Song – George Benson and Joe Farrell
- It’s Going to Take Some Time – Gabor Szabo
- Sugar – Stanley Turrentine
- Red Clay – Freddie Hubbard
- Super Strut – Deodato
- Home is Where the Hatred Is – Esther Phillips
CD 1, Track 1 from Prelude, 1973
CD 1, Track 2 from Black Widow, 1976
CD 1, Track 3 from What a Diff’rence a Day Makes, Kudu, 1975
CD 1, Track 4 from Turn This Mutha Out, Kudu, 1977
CD 1, Track 5 from Three, 1976
CD 1, Track 6 from Shoogie Wanna Boogie, Kudu, 1976
CD 1, Track 7 from Fuse One, 1980
CD 1, Track 8 from The Chicago Theme, 1975
CD 1, Track 9 from Anything Goes, Kudu, 1975
CD 1, Track 10 from Breakout, Kudu, 1971
CD 1, Track 11 from Wildflower, Kudu, 1973
CD 1, Track 12 from Mama Wailer, Kudu, 1971
CD 1, Track 13 from End of the Rainbow, 1976
CD 2, Track 1 from CTI single OJ-25, 1975
CD 2, Track 2 from Baltimore, 1978
CD 2, Track 3 from Joe Farrell Quartet, 1970
CD 2, Track 4 from God Bless the Child, 1971
CD 2, Track 5 from Forecast, Kudu, 1973
CD 2, Track 6 from Polar AC, 1975
CD 2, Track 7 from Benson & Farrell, 1976
CD 2, Track 8 from Mizrab, 1973
CD 2, Track 9 from Sugar, 1971
CD 2, Track 10 from Red Clay, 1970
CD 2, Track 11 from Deodato 2, 1973
CD 2, Track 12 from From a Whisper to a Scream, Kudu, 1971
All tracks on CTI Records unless otherwise indicated.