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Archive for November 18th, 2011

Review: The Cool Revolution Continues – Four From CTI and Kudu

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When he established Kudu as an offshoot of his titanic jazz label CTI, Creed Taylor wore his ambitions on his sleeve.   The label was named after the long-horned African mammal and its logo adorned with Afro-centric colors, as Taylor intended to do no less than make Kudu a home for releases “indigenous to the black popular music of the United States.”   Taylor always knew the importance of a visual, and much as CTi releases were recognizable for their striking, provocative cover photographs and lavish gatefolds, Kudu’s were no-frills, with bold, plain print and simpler photos or artwork in single-jacket sleeves.  Spartan though the design may have been, no less care was expended on the music.  Much of Kudu’s output could sit comfortably alongside CTI’s, even employing many of the same artists.  Even the repertoire was often similar, with familiar pop songs used as fodder for jazz exploration.  (It was no accident; these hit titles would often draw new listeners to the albums!)  But Kudu’s releases were cut from a funkier cloth.  Four of the best examples have just been reissued by Sony Masterworks, concluding its 40th anniversary series of CTI reissues.  Though there’s currently no indication, here’s hoping that the series resumes to mark CTI’s 41st…and 42nd!  These albums are very much “of their time,” but transcend that tag thanks to impeccable, enduring musicianship.

Lonnie Smith only recorded one title for the Kudu label, but 1971’s Mama Wailer (88697 94704-2) holds a significant spot in the label’s legacy as the second-ever Kudu album.  Smith, on clavinet and organ, contributed two original compositions.  “Mama Wailer,” with vocal interjections on the title phrase, boasts a percolating groove from its leader but also an impressive tenor saxophone solo from Marvin Cabell.  “Hola Muncea” is a little less melodic than the title track, but reaches a similar place at the intersection of latin soul and funk.  Two pop classics round out the album.  Tapestry was still fresh on the record racks when Smith selected Carole King’s “I Feel the Earth Move” for a workout.  His organ gives it a decidedly different identity than King’s piano, and he brings the grease to Laurel Canyon!  The most remarkable track, however, is the epic reworking of Sly Stone’s “Stand!” which filled the entirety of Side Two on the original LP.  With layered, overdubbed B3 parts, Smith’s organ licks are fired off like machine gun blasts.  Almost nine minutes in, there’s an insinuating call and response which leads to a furious Grover Washington Jr. solo (Grover would go solo on the third Kudu album, Inner City Blues).  Billy Cobham’s drumming remains the anchor throughout the song’s shifting dynamics; the great, cosmic conclusion of “Stand!”  looks forward to Smith’s later works.

Hit the jump to revisit Hank Crawford, Johnny Hammond and Esther Phillips’ Kudu classics! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

November 18, 2011 at 10:15