Joe Farrell, Penny Arcade

Album of the Week, July 29, 2023

After the bombast of the last two weeks, one might see the cover of this week’s #albumoftheweek and think: phew. Small group straight ahead jazz. You’d be right about the group size—Joe Farrell brought a sextet into the studio this time, with Herbie Hancock returning on piano and adding Joe Beck on guitar, Herb Bushler on bass, Steve Gadd on drums, and Don Alias on congas. However, rather than straight-ahead sounds, this album continues the turn to jazz-funk that began on Farrell’s previous CTI date, Moon Germs.

In fact, since that record, Farrell had been playing a lot of jazz-funk, and so had his band. Penny Arcade was recorded in October 1973, a month after Herbie Hancock recorded the galactically funky Head Hunters. Steve Gadd had played sessions with Johnny Hammond and the earlier, funkier incarnation of Chuck Mangione’s band. Don Alias had, of course, played with Miles on Bitches Brew, and also played in the Tony Williams Lifetime. Herb Bushler had also played with the Lifetime and also with Melvin Van Peebles. And Joe Beck had played electric guitar on Miles’ “Circle in the Round,” the trumpeter’s first session with an electric guitar, and had performed with a number of jazz and funk combos, including a number of session tracks for James Brown. In fact, it’s likely that Farrell met Beck in Brown’s band, since both played on Get on the Good Foot.

And the album definitely shows its funk roots, though it takes a minute to get there. “Penny Arcade” starts out as a more conventional quintet number, but Joe Beck’s wah-wah laden solo quickly shifts things into the funk zone. Farrell’s solo is less adventurous than many on his early ’70s output as he sticks close to the melody, and the pocket.

That brings us to the mighty “Too High.” The opening is a faithful cover of the Stevie Wonders classic, thanks to some tasty keyboard work from Hancock, Farrell’s soprano sax, and the combined electric onslaught of Beck and Bushler. Herbie’s keyboard playing gets richer and stranger behind each iteration of the chorus, which repeats three times before Farrell takes a solo. Here he’s a little less tethered to the literal melody of the tune and it opens up into a modal exploration over top of a squelchy, funky rhythm section. Farrell’s solo continues, bridging between straight ahead melody, funky rhythm, and avant-garde voicings, before returning to the chorus. Hancock’s solo is full of the melodic flourishes that he brought to Head Hunters, but in a more limited palette; he confines himself to the Fender Rhodes, rather than the riot of synthesizers that appeared on his earlier album. Toward the end of the solo, he extends the tonality into a more explicitly minor key before returning to the melody. Bushler builds a solo around the bent notes of the hook, Beck supporting him with an increasingly spare rhythm until he drops out entirely. The final chorus narrows to a plaintive note from Farrell before returning for a coda. It’s the highlight of the album.

Hurricane Jane,” by contrast, is a brighter uptempo number that opens with a more prominent Beck over the unified rhythm section, with Farrell sitting back further in the mix. The mood changes and clouds of Echoplexed Fender roll in for a few measures, and then it’s right back to the funk as Farrell takes a fierce Maceo-flavored solo.

Cloud Cream” begins with Don Alias’s congas and a dual lead on the soprano sax and the Fender. It keeps its salsa flavor going through the first two minutes, then segues to a double-time section before relaxing back into the rhythm, led by Farrell on piccolo. The track is lovely and straightforward, and sets up the closer, “Geo Blue.” Pivoting between slower balladic moments and straight ahead groove, the track seems to sum up the funk, melodic feel, and approachability of the album. It is the most versatile set of sounds on the album, featuring a lovely and effects-free solo from Beck, an acoustic piano interlude from Hancock, and a recurring solo from Farrell on tenor sax that’s plaintive and winsome by turns.

Farrell thus managed a transition from avant-garde leaning straight ahead jazz to pure jazz funk and retained much of his credibility in the process. It’s a hard thing to do, and critics panned the follow-up efforts Upon This Rock and Canned Funk. Those albums were still loved by MCs, though, and were sampled by Kanye West and A Tribe Called Quest, among others. In 2008, 22 years after her father’s death, Farrell’s daughter sued West, Method Man, Redman and Common for sampling “Upon This Rock” without permission. She quietly settled the suit. So though Farrell may not have had a long career, his recordings lived on—and continued to earn money for the family. Next week we’ll hear from another CTI stalwart who is still recording today.

You can listen to the album here:

Retroactive FOMO

The lead to this morning’s The Morning newsletter from the Times could have been written by me. Like the writer, Melissa Kirsch,* I managed to go from 1990 to 1994 at UVA without ever seeing a Dave Matthews show (though I did see Boyd Tinsley perform in more avant-garde groups, notably with the late Greg Howard, in venues so small that you would end up at the next urinal over from him during the break). But it took me until “Under the Table and Dreaming” to develop an appreciation for him, at which point there was no way of seeing him in at tiny venues. I too feel like I missed out on an opportunity, even if the jam band culture that came from the DMB and its peers is assuredly not my kettle of fish.

I don’t know that indie (or “alternative,” or “college”) rock snobbery played any big role in my not going to DMB shows. If I’m honest, it was probably social snobbery—I was very self-consciously aware of my status as a non-fraternity member, to the extent that I never went to a Greek party in my four years there, and it seemed like a lot of fraternity guys went to those shows. Not my scene, I thought.

How foolish I was. If I’ve learned anything since then, it’s that life is too short to not take opportunities to do something simply because of who else is doing it. And I was in a fraternity, of sorts; we jokingly called the Virginia Glee Club a “fraternity of talent,” and our parties were probably not that different from what was happening on Rugby Road (maybe a little quieter).

* Footnote: Melissa started a couple years after me and we ended up in the same poetry class together in my fourth year. She was published in the literary mag I started, Rag & Bone, in the spring 1994 issue.

Don Sebesky, Giant Box

Album of the Week, July 22, 2023

Remember how I said, last week, that Deodato 2 represented the CTI Records sound dialed up to 11? Well, we’re going to redefine what “11” is. Giant Box, the biggest physical release that CTI ever did, lives up to its name in terms of packaging, scope, number of players, and sheer ambition. And it’s all wrapped up in the first of only two releases in the CTI discography credited to Don Sebesky as a leader, backed up by virtually every name on the CTI roster.

We’ve heard about Sebesky in a number of these reviews, and it’s worth taking a peek at his bio. Born in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, in 1937; a trombonist who studied at the Manhattan School of Music and played with Kai Winding, Claude Thornhill, Tommy Dorsey, Warren Covington, Maynard Ferguson and Stan Kenton; switched to arranging in 1960; had enormous success with his arrangements for Wes Montgomery on his 1965 album Bumpin’ for Verve Records, produced by Creed Taylor. By the time we find Giant Box in 1973, Sebesky had been working with Taylor for almost a decade, and the new success of the label enabled him to do this project.

And what a project it was! The seven tracks on Giant Box range from classical third stream crossover—only in this case it’s Stravinsky and Rachmaninoff; pop music (a Joni Mitchell cover); jazz-funk; and a handful of original compositions that channel a whole bunch of new influences, including Donald Byrd’s flirtations with spiritual jazz. There’s a choir on here, somehow. And there’s (deep breath) Freddie Hubbard, Grover Washington Jr., George Benson, Airto, Milt Jackson, vocalists Jackie Cain and Roy Kral, Dave Brubeck’s foil Paul Desmond, Hubert Laws, Joe Farrell, Ron Carter, Bob James, Billy Cobham, Jack DeJohnette, Randy Brecker, Warren Covington, and a full orchestra. Basically the whole roster of the label showed up, and it’s incredible.

Firebird/Birds of Fire” combines Igor Stravinsky’s orchestral score for The Firebird with John McLaughlin’s fusion classic “Birds of Fire,” the title track for the second album by the Mahavishnu Orchestra, which had been released just four months before the recording sessions started. It’s as bonkers as it sounds, with a purely classical opening that only hints, via slight hits of the rhythm guitar, at the madness that lies ahead. At the 2:15 mark, the classical orchestra parts like a curtain, revealing an ensemble anchored by the tight rhythm section plus George Benson and a completely bananas string section. Hubert Laws gets the first solo over this rhythm section, followed by Freddie Hubbard, whose solo dissolves into a swirl of freaked-out strings. The strings and rhythm section fade out, an orchestral statement triumphantly re-voices the ending theme, and then the rhythm section and swirling strings return in a two minute coda, tapering in a fade-out.

After the opening track, Joni Mitchell’s “Song to a Seagull” is a quiet breath, with Paul Desmond’s alto saxophone fading in unaccompanied. Bob James enters on Fender Rhodes, joined by Ron Carter. This is mostly a quartet track, with only a hint of orchestral backing between verses and under the final chorus. The track is meditative and quiet, basically the polar opposite of “Firebird/Birds of Fire”.

Free as a Bird” is one of the Sebesky originals on the album. The horn chart is straight out of the school of Gil Evans, but it falls away quickly to Bob James’ piano, in a trio with Carter and DeJohnette. Hubbard plays a brisk solo that’s quietly virtuosic, with all of the blaze and none of the screaming of his solo live work. Grover Washington Jr. plays a propulsive solo on the soprano sax, in only his second CTI appearance (he made his CTI debut on Randy Weston’s 1972 Blue Moses). The tempo changes to a 6/8 samba for about 30 seconds and then recapitulates the top of the tune. It’s a brilliant show.

Jimmy Webb’s “Psalm 150” was written for Revelation, a short lived Christian rock band, and first recorded on their 1970 self-titled debut album. Recast as a jazz number, it’s reminiscent of Donald Byrd’s spiritual jazz experiments on A New Perspective, albeit with slightly squarer vocals courtesy of Jackie and Roy, very approximate Latin pronunciation, and a little echo of the Beatles. Freddie Hubbard’s trumpet solo is tight, playing with meter as it weaves around the blues. When Ron Carter takes a piccolo bass solo, it shifts the whole composition into a blues jam. Bob James provides a quirky organ solo that continues to evolve the blues sound. After a final chorus, the whole thing ends in “loud, crashing cymbals.”

Paul Desmond again changes gears, with a tender rendition of Rachmaninoff’s “Vocalise.” I once went out with a girl in college who was an oboe player, who bitterly protested when she heard Branford Marsalis’s rendition of “Vocalise”: “The saxophones get all the solos! Let the oboe have this one!” Here Desmond applies enough English on his solo, alongside DeJohnette’s brilliant drums, to rightly claim the tune for the saxophone; Milt Jackson also comes at the tune sideways in his solo, evoking the underlying blues. Hubert Laws stacks on top of Jackson’s solo, then yields to the orchestra and a final chorus.

Fly/Circles,” another Sebesky original, opens in flights of flute, courtesy of Hubert Laws and an echo loop. Sebesky sings his composition “Fly” in one of the few bad choices on the album; his is a fine composer’s voice but not up to the material. Another round of echoed flute ensues, transitioning into “Circles,” a fast blues with the tune in doubled keys and soprano sax, this time played by Joe Farrell. After an extended Farrell solo, the orchestra comes back, then falls away for Hubert Laws with Carter and DeJohnette. A final orchestral take on the tune closes out the track.

The closing number, “Semi-Tough” represents the jazz-funk side of CTI quite ably, with Sebesky on a variety of keyboards, Grover Washington Jr. on sax, Billy Cobham on drums, Ron Carter on a rare electric bass, and George Benson on an effects-heavy guitar, plus orchestra and voices. The guitar effect pedal threatens to sink the track; fortunately Washington’s sax pulls the track back up to a higher standard of performance. It’s not the most successful jazz-funk track in the CTI catalog, but it’s a good closing number here.

Giant Box is not subtle, but it’s surprisingly effective at showcasing all the different elements of the CTI sound, thanks to a cast of thousands and some excellent arranging from Sebesky. We’ll hear his arrangements again, but our next few CTI albums will be smaller-scale affairs—though no less funky.

You can listen to the album here:

Deodato, Deodato 2

Album of the Week, July 15, 2023

Here is a turning point in the CTI Records story. We’ve discussed how, Freddie Hubbard’s albums aside, much of the label’s output was beginning to coalesce around a formula: jazzy instrumental pop, classical “third stream” style crossover, big orchestration applied subtly, covers of recent pop songs, solid rhythm section with impeccable jazz credentials. This record takes many of the aspects of the formula and cranks them up to extremes, while discarding some of the parts that gave the label “jazz cred” among more traditional listeners. And it did it with one of the biggest selling artists on the label.

Eumir Deodato is a Brazilian keyboardist, arranger and composer. Building his career in bossa nova, he released Prelude, his first US album, on CTI in January 1973. It was a monster, becoming the biggest seller the label ever had and hitting Number 3 on the Billboard albums chart. Its first track, “Also Sprach Zarathustra (2001),” went all the way to Number 2 on the Hot 100. It was a phenomenon, and Creed Taylor, who knew how to strike when the iron was hot, quickly got Deodato back in the studio in April and May 1973 to record Deodato 2, the follow-up. The album features the instrumental pop, classical crossover, pop song covers, and big orchestration, but there’s nothing subtle about it, and you won’t find Ron Carter, Jack DeJohnette, or Herbie Hancock in the orchestra. That’s not to say there were no notable players; Hubert Laws, Stanley Clarke, Billy Cobham and Jon Faddis, who had just turned 20 and was beginning a long career as an in-demand studio musician, all appear on the record. Also worthy of note is another session player, guitarist John Tropea, who would later appear on dozens of significant recordings, including Paul Simon’s 1975 hit “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover.” But the sound here, driven by Deodato’s own arrangements, is different: keyboard-heavy, slightly muddy, and effects driven.

This is most evident in “Nights in White Satin,” the opening track.* The opening notes sound sludgy, until John Tropea’s guitar comes in, supported by a blast from the horns. All of a sudden the arrangement is in double time and Tropea is playing like he just dropped in from a Jimi Hendrix cover band. Deodato’s keyboard playing is less chunky, funky Fender Rhodes and more pitch-bendy early 1970’s pastiche. The fast section approaches the chukka-chukka sound of a million 1970s TV theme songs. In fairness to Deodato, this was mid-1973 and the sound hadn’t yet calcified into cliché; but it hasn’t aged well.

Continuing to follow the CTI formula, after a pop song cover comes a classical third stream take, in this case of Ravel’s “Pavane for a Dead Princess.” This one is given over to strings and a more acoustic sounding keyboard. The arrangement is considerably less sludgy than in “Nights” but suffers from a common problem in covers of this work: tempo. It calls to mind Ravel’s comment to Charles Oulmont following a performance of the work; he observed “the piece was called ‘Pavane for a dead princess’, not ‘dead pavane for a princess’.” The arrangement gathers some amount of interest at the 3:30 mark as the keyboard leads into a key change, but then everything dies away again.

Deodato’s original composition “Skyscrapers” opens with a heavy Stanley Clarke bass line into the main theme, which feels more than a little like a 70’s cop show theme pastiche, with the rhythm guitar chugging away under a bright optimistic theme in the horns. Here the sound is more successful, and when Tropea’s guitar arrives it feels more organically connected to the music. Deodato’s own solo features some inventive use of synth timbres, surrounded by the sunny horns. At over six and a half minutes long, the track doesn’t wear out its welcome.

Side 2 kicks off* with “Super Strut,” the other Deodato original on the album. Deodato layers Fender Rhodes and other keyboards into the funky opening line, which sets up the main theme in Tropea’s guitar and Hubert Laws’ flute. The tune is a straight ahead jazz-rock-soul number, with more than a little debt to Isaac Hayes (whose “Theme from Shaft” was by now two years in the rear view mirror but whose trademark sounds were just starting to appear in jazz-rock fusion). Throughout the pedal effects on the guitar solo are a little raspy around the edges, as if passed through a square wave filter. The orchestra is not subtle here, with layers of strings and horns slathered over the choruses with a broad brush.

And speaking of not subtle, Deodato closes out the set with a bluesy riff on the Rhodes that leads into a familiar riff in the guitar, and then the orchestra comes in and oh my God they’re playing “Rhapsody in Blue.” The opening chorus feels more than a little like the disco version of the Star Wars theme, all the romance and delight of Gershwin’s rubato flattened out into a four-on-the-floor stomp. Fortunately the solos are a more straightforward blues vamp on a single chord; it’s almost a relief not to hear the band attempting to solo over Gershwin’s chords. As a blues-rock number it’s not bad, but it’s definitely not “Rhapsody in Blue.”

All in all, Deodato 2 is all the signature bits of the CTI Records sound dialed up to 11: the strings, the pop songs, the classical crossover, and the jazz-funk-rock fusion. That much of it sounds hopelessly dated to modern ears isn’t necessarily the fault of the musicians, but some measure of blame must be laid at Deodato’s feet due to the arrangements. Fortunately he got better; his orchestral arrangements over the years graced albums by Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, Paul Desmond, and even Bjork (on Post, Telegram, and Homogenic). He hasn’t issued an album since 2010, but one suspects he could. But he might just be happy at home with his family, including daughter Kennya, who married Stephen Baldwin, and granddaughter Hailey, who married Justin Bieber.

We won’t be reviewing more Deodato albums in this space, but next week we’ll check out another example of CTI turned up to 11, courtesy of another of the label’s great arrangers.

* A note on the running order. The original LP opened with “Nights in White Satin” leading off Side 1 and “Super Strut” opening side 2. The 1988 CD reissue flipped the sides around, perhaps figuring that “Super Strut” was the stronger opening lead; later reissues have restored the original running order.

You can listen to the album here:

Freddie Hubbard, Music Is Here

Album of the Week, July 8, 2023

I’m taking a small detour this week from our review of the CTI Records discography (through the lens of my personal collection) to check out a recently published live recording of Freddie Hubbard’s from 1973. Coming just weeks after Freddie Hubbard and Stanley Turrentine, In Concert Vol. 1, this is a completely different lineup of players and in many ways a different sound, but it’s all anchored by the greatness of Hubbard’s early-1970s compositions.

Hubbard recorded In Concert Vol. 1 on March 3 and 4, 1973 in Chicago and Detroit. This new set was recorded on March 25 live in Studio 104, Maison de la Radio (ORTF), Paris, with a new group of musicians. You won’t hear Ron Carter, Herbie Hancock or Jack Dejohnette on this session. Instead, Hubbard put together a touring band, his first “regular” quintet, who would perform and record with Hubbard both in the studio and on tour throughout the 1970s. On bass was Kent Brinkley, who had previously played with Monk Montgomery and Charles Tyler. Michael Carvin had previously appeared on drums with Doug Carn and Henry Franklin, but made his name with this band and went on to record almost 100 different records as a sideman. George Cables had played piano with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers and had appeared on Joe Henderson’s great Milestone Records recordings of the early 1970s. And Junior Cook was the eldest member of the group, having debuted on a 1958 Kenny Burrell recording and played with Burrell, Horace Silver, Blue Mitchell, John Patton and others through the 1960s.

True to the album version, “Sky Dive” opens the record with a statement from rhythm section that quickly segues into the opening melodic statement from the horn players. After the opening verses, Cook takes the first solo, and immediately displays the reason he’s on board; his playing is a fiery combination of Coltrane-inspired runs and Joe Henderson-style melodies. Brinkley takes the second solo. His bass solo stays in the more traditional bass octave instead of the piccolo range that Carter was beginning to favor, exploring multiple tones around the melody before settling back into the groove. Hubbard then finally enters at around the seven minute mark, playing a series of blisteringly fast runs around the theme. George Cables’ solo is a little low in the mix on the recording, but his improvisational model is clear as he takes a more mellow approach to the tune. The horns come back in after Cables’ single chorus solo. We don’t hear a lot from Carvin on the track aside from his precise cymbal work; he’s supportive but doesn’t raise his head above the fray. The overall impression the band leaves at the end of the track is affability.

That easygoing feel is shattered by the opening of “The Intrepid Fox,” which follows “Sky Dive” closely. If this tune was raucous on Red Clay, it’s almost apocalyptic here. As the horns lay into the tune, Carvin is let off the chain and creates a ruckus, followed closely by Cables providing an extended vamp of an intro. Just before the two minute mark the full band enters to state the theme. Hubbard takes the first solo here, keeping his altitude high throughout and throwing out sonic effects left and right. At about the 6 minute mark he essays a brief melodic improvisation but quickly returns to the sonic explorations. Cook takes over and makes up for any missing melodic exploration, taking the theme into several different modes while still reflecting Hubbard’s high improvisations. Cables has a more extended solo here but is still very low in the mix. His approach is harmonically similar to Herbie’s, and his solo illustrates the modal construction of the song—the melody is basically a pedal note on the fifth of the scale while the chords move underneath it. Carvin takes an extended solo that transitions into a meditation on the cymbals, inspiring a chuckle and some Dizzy Gillespie-esque vocal improvisations from Hubbard. The band comes back together for a quick recap of the tune and then hits it, leaving the audience clapping for more. It’s almost 23 minutes long but feels gone in a flash.

“Povo” starts out in an unexpectedly tender mood, again omitting the spoken intro from the album version on Sky Dive, but launching into funk overdrive courtesy of the indefatigable bass line from Brinkley. The whole rhythm section feels looser here, with Carvin’s fills bouncing against the elasticity of Cables’ keys. Hubbard and Cook render a playful take on the alternating horns of the main tune, with Hubbard biting off the ends of phrases and beginning to improvise against the melodic line even within the head. Cook again provides his trademark blend of melodic improvisation and Coltrane-like obligatos, hitting some Freddie-like high notes at the end of the solo. Hubbard provides some support under the third verse of Cook’s solo, but plays away from the microphone so as to leave Cook in the spotlight. Carvin takes twelve bars of funky drummer alongside Brinkley, then fades back until all we get is Brinkley’s bass, heavily distorted in the low end but very funky. The group comes back together at the end for a seriously funky finish, and the track ends with the audience clapping and calling for an encore.

The band returns to the stage at the end for a brilliant rendition of “First Light.” Out of the primordial soup of the abstract opening comes the continuo of the rhythm section, rocking back and forth between A♭minor and a E♭ diminished 7th suspension, which powers the verse throughout as the horns enter at around the four minute mark. Hubbard unleashes a blistering solo that combines some of his patented pyrotechnics with melodic improvisation around the base chords. At one point he lands on a bum note, but incorporates it brilliantly into the solo, landing on it repeatedly in a funk counterpoint. He then takes off into the stratosphere for a verse before bringing the pitch back down in a series of circling patterns, continuing to drop the “off” note (an augmented sixth) into the improvisation and using it to push the key higher. He even drops a little homage to Stanley Turrentine, echoing the latter’s quotation of “It Ain’t Necessarily So” in the Chicago concert three weeks prior. Finally concluding a seven minute long solo, Hubbard steps back at almost exactly the halfway point of the track, yielding the floor to Cook, who takes a solo turn on flute. Cook’s flute is a more aggressive voice than Hubert Laws’, but it’s still a respite from the energy of the track, and it’s only two choruses long. Cables takes the floor for a solo that alternates a counter melody with outbursts of the diminished 7th chord, extended transitions between the two, and general groove. Throughout the keyboard solo, Carvin’s drumming gets progressively looser, continuing to keep time while exploring different aspects of the rhythm coming from Cables. The band comes back together for one more chorus, then Hubbard plays a sort of extended outro, Sketches of Spain style, taking the main melody at a greatly stretched tempo but still dropping in flourishes while the rest of the band gets quieter, until he finally slowly sinks, seemingly into the earth, and finally into silence. Applause, one last statement of a “theme” for the band, and then the end.

In many ways this recording captured a turning point for Hubbard’s 1970s career. He was to make one more studio album with CTI Records; Keep Your Soul Together was released at the end of 1973 and featured Cook, Cables and Brinkley alongside Ron Carter, with Ralph Penland on drums, Juno Lewis on percussion, and Aurell Ray on guitar. After that he jumped to Warner Bros., where he made a series of highly commercial but critically panned records. He spent most of the late 1970s as a member of a new quintet with Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, Tony Williams, and Wayne Shorter; we’ll hear about them in another column. He also was fighting a substance abuse problem, and suffered a lip injury in 1992 that effectively put an end to the high level of performance that characterized his greatest music.

With Hubbard’s departure from CTI, one of the main ingredients of their sound, the straight-ahead jazz core that he represented, was unavoidably diminished. Next time we’ll hear one of the elements that rose to take its place.

Listen: As with many bootlegged sessions there have been many versions of this set released over the years. While there’s no full stream of the released album (which features considerably cleaned up audio compared to the bootlegs), you can actually watch the live-in-studio concert on YouTube! Featuring “Straight Life” and “Here’s That Rainy Day” instead of “Sky Dive” and “Povo,” but dating from the same sessions, here’s a great view of Hubbard’s band in concert.

Freddie Hubbard and Stanley Turrentine, In Concert Vol. 1

Album of the Week, July 1, 2023

This week’s album is taken in chronological order of recording rather than release; there were a couple of CTI recordings that were released between Blues Farm and In Concert, Vol. 1 that I’ll come back and cover later. But this seemed to be a good time to start to tell the story of how Freddie Hubbard left CTI, and what happened after.

It’s only a slight exaggeration to call the early 1970s the peak of Hubbard’s recording career. After all, he had had some very successful albums on Blue Note and Impulse in the 1960s. But his fame after Red Clay, Straight Life, First Light and Sky Dive was at its highest point. Sky Dive actually charted on the Billboard 200 for seven weeks; the fact that it peaked at #165 is beside the point. (Eight other Hubbard albums hit the charts following Sky Dive, proving the point that nothing succeeds like success.) And so early 1973 found him on tour with a constellation of CTI stalwarts.

Co-headlining was Stanley Turrentine, who followed up Sugar with Gilberto with Turrentine and Salt Song. On guitar was Eric Gale, who as a teenager had visited John Coltrane at his house and jammed with the titan, and who had recorded with Yusef Lateef, David “Fathead” Newman, Mongo Santamaria, Johnny “Hammond” Smith, Grover Washington Jr., and both Hubbard and Turrentine at different points—and who would go on to perform on Roberta Flack’s Killing Me Softly. The rest of the band featured Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, and Jack DeJohnette, who collectively at this point might have been the most astonishing rhythm section working in jazz.

The performances on In Concert Vol 1 were recorded on March 3, 1974 at the Chicago Opera House, and the following night at the Ford Auditorium in Detroit. And they were fiery. Side one of the record is given over entirely to “Povo,” but where the album version had a spoken word intro from Airto, here we get just some prime Herbie Hancock electric piano before the groove is introduced, this time with Gale on guitar deepening the groove atop Carter and DeJohnette. (I should note that DeJohnette’s presence in Cobham’s stead did not make anything less funky, but the sonic palette employed by the drums is broader.) Hancock’s piano, run through a pedal that’s distorting the sound a bit, is prominent in the mix, and it’s a little hard to hear Carter. But what you can hear is that everyone is playing their asses off. Freddie’s solo takes us all over the place sonically, and it’s over six minutes into the track before Turrentine arrives. The first few verses are taken in line with the funk-soul leanings of the overall track, but beginning about a minute into his solo we begin to hear some influences from Coltrane’s chromaticism and sonic palette.

Turrentine takes his solo into the stratosphere, following Hubbard’s lead, but then brings the sax down into its growling low range as well. The whole thing demonstrates convincingly how he earned his co-headlining place on the album. Herbie Hancock’s solo sits solidly within his soulful earlier work, with at first only a few hints of the “out-there” sound of his Mwandishi band or of the even funkier eruptions of the Headhunters band that he would debut later that year. And yet they’re there in abundance, in the later moments of the track, as he takes the music into a different meter against the steady groove. Carter’s solo, taken in the higher register of his bass’s sound, plays with the steady pattern of the groove, and finds a deep melody within it. The latter part of his solo has some decoration at the edges from Gale’s guitar and Hancock’s piano and becomes a pure moment of funk. The whole thing is a deliciously stretched out nineteen minutes of the tightest possible jazz-funk sound imaginable.

Gibraltar” is a tune we haven’t reviewed in album form; it opens Turrentine’s classic CTI album Salt Song, his second after Sugar. The album version featured the full-on Don Sebesky sound, but the live version of the song here opens with a ferocious Jack DeJohnette solo that transitions out of a set of flourishes across his kit into a repeated pattern on the bell. Carter picks up the bassline and the band is off to the races. Hubbard’s solo emerges seamlessly from the texture of the opening choruses but effectively builds a kind of sonic superiority by virtue of higher pitch and his trademarked rapid articulation. He then drops back, trading shorter rhythmic passages with Hancock before reclaiming the stratosphere once more. He then slowly descends into a more normal tessitura, trading thoughts with the saxophone before finally stepping back.

Turrentine stretches into the tune, dropping a little “It Ain’t Necessarily So” into his solo at around the eight-minute mark and then transitioning out through a quotation from “A Love Supreme.” Hancock’s solo skews slightly more abstract on this track than it did on “Povo,” embracing the series of chord changes at the heart of the chorus and elaborating them. When DeJohnette comes in he maintains the energy of his initial flourishes, playing polyrhythmic patterns in the tom and snare before engaging an extended solo on the cymbals. The horns return to the theme with four minutes remaining, and play out two verses before segueing into an extended group improvisation in which the horns play against each other and Hancock. It’s a delightful meltdown, ending with Hancock’s Echoplexed Fender disappearing into outer space and the horns bottoming out into a low growl.

In Concert Volume One arrived at an interesting time in CTI Records’ history, as the different ingredients of the sound—solid jazz, orchestral arrangements, soul-funk influences, pop covers—were beginning to swirl together into a formula. In this context, this album stands out as a sort of a proud throwback to straight-ahead live jazz playing, supported by one of the finest bands Freddie Hubbard ever had. Next week we’ll pause our CTI review to check out a recently released recording that documents another episode on Hubbard’s tour in 1973, before we dive back into the archives of the label that Creed Taylor built.

France in a time of unrest

Palais de Justice, Rouen

We’ve been in France for about a week on a long-delayed trip. We’ve seen a lot of things (my Flickr album is a pretty good way to follow along). And we’ve arrived at an interesting time.

I’ve been asked a few times how we’re doing in France with the ongoing rioting over the death of Nahel M, a teenager of Algerian-Moroccan descent who was shot and killed by French police during a traffic stop on Tuesday night. (See the New York Times for details.)

The short answer until last night was: we are mostly insulated, thanks to distance from the riot locations (which in Paris were mostly in the suburb where he was shot, and in other cities have tended to be closer to official buildings than the places we’ve stayed). That distance is mostly a gift of privilege: we are tourists who can afford to stay in tourist places.

Last night coming home from dinner we saw Black and Brown teenagers running a few blocks from where we were, and then saw a few white teenagers run past us and up our street. At night we heard voices and at one point some breaking glass—but more like a bottle than a window. Unsettling, but not endangering.

I don’t understand French society well enough to know what I think about what’s happening here, but I’m profoundly saddened by the violence and the polarization, and by the abrupt ending to a human life. And, not going to lie, Bono’s infamous line from “Do They Know It’s Christmas?,” “Tonight thank God it’s them instead of you” has been going through my head. One of the most uncomfortable and confrontational lines in pop music, it kind of encapsulates privilege and the insulating power that it has in times like these.

But we’re ok. In a way that few here can afford to be.