12 September 2022: a Creed Taylor special and more

In this show we celebrated music produced by the late Creed Taylor for Impulse!, CTI , Verve and other great labels – and it turned out to be a surprisingly varied and boundary crossing selection too. Derek also added music from two artists he has seen recently at the Snape Maltings venue in Suffolk, UK.

  1. Alina Bzhezhinska – Los Caballos from Inspiration

For the last two years, the Snape Maltings centre in Suffolk UK – founded as a music venue by the composer Benjamin Britten – has held free outdoor concerts featuring excellent musicians from a range of styles. Derek has enjoyed some of the jazz artists featured and this year that included the Ukranian harpist Alina Bzhezhinka and her hip-harp collective. Very good it was too, with an interesting combination of harp, percussion, drums and electric bass, playing a mixture of compositions by Alina and tunes from fellow harpists Alice Coltrane and Dorothy Ashby, including material from the collective’s forthcoming album. Los Caballos is an Alice Coltrane composition from the album Inspiration which features Joel Prime on drums and percussion, Tony Kofi on saxes and Larry Bartley on double bass. Alina has made something of a unique journey from being an outstanding  performer and teacher of classical harp to being a significant jazz harpist. She is very active in supporting Ukraine – indeed, as she explained at Snape, her brother is fighting to combat the current Russian invasion and she is raising funds for Ukranian musicians. You can support this by purchasing hereMake Music Not War t-shirt.

2.  Jason Moran – Blue Blocks from Ten

Jason Moran also performed a recent solo piano show in the Snape Maltings Concert Hall which Derek attended. Moran – Texas-born but now New York resident – stressed the importance, the qualities and the power of the piano in solo performance. He was was very well received by a disappointingly small audience with a rapturous response to his  virtuosity and amazing, dexterous skills.  He drew on and showed respect for the jazz traditions (as befits an artist who has recently celebrated the life and works of Fats Waller) but he pulled in more contemporary sounds, acknowledging a personal musical journey that has encompassed jazz and hiphop. The tune Blue Blocks comes from Moran’s superb Blue Note album Ten and features a trio that includes Tarus Mateen on bass and Nasheen Waits on drums. Moran has played a host of other celebrated jazz musicians, including Archie Shepp, Greg Osby and CJ champion Charles Lloyd with whom you can find his stunning piano work on the tune Booker’s Garden from the ECM album Rabo de Nube recorded live at Theater Basel in 2007. This is a tune that has been included many times on Cosmic Jazz over the years, and it’s a shared favourite of both Derek and Neil.

3. Jimmy Smith – Got My Mojo Workin’ from Got My Mojo Workin’

Much of the programme is devoted to the late jazz producer and record label owner Creed Taylor (1929-2022). The range of jazz styles he produced was astounding, as you will see from our selection. One of the people he worked with was bluesman, and Hammond organ player Jimmy Smith. This provided an appropriate follow-up to  Jason Moran, who was keen in live performance to draw upon and stress the importance of the blues. Got My Mojo Workin is from a 1966 Verve album of the same name by ‘The Incredible’ Jimmy Smith who’s supported by an incredible line-up including Kenny Burrell on guitar and Phil Woods on alto sax. This first of our Creed Taylor tributes was engineered by Rudy Van Gelder and arranged by Oliver Nelson (see below). It’s one of those catchy, hummable and easily recognised tunes with Smith’s driving, and at times intricate organ solos, backed by persistent and repetitive drum and bass, with Smith’s gravelly voice either side of the instrumental section explaining that his mojo is just not workin’ on you – but  who the ‘you’ might be we are not sure. Simply  irresistible, a tune that has filled many a dance floor over the years and could still do so today.

4. John Coltrane – The Damned Don’t Cry from The Complete Africa/Brass Sessions

In contrast to getting a mojo working, Creed Taylor also produced for the Impulse! record label including John Coltrane’s Africa/Brass date in 1961 – his first for the label. Rudy Van Gelder was the recording engineer for this celebrated Coltrane Quartet with McCoy Tyner on piano, Reggie Workman on bass and Elvin Jones on drums, and for The Damned Don’t Cry they are joined by Booker Little on trumpet – Charles Lloyd’s childhood friend after whom Booker’s Garden (above) is named. The Damned Don’t Cry was written by trumpeter Cal Massey and apparently, it was recorded in a hurry, as the session was in danger of running over its allotted time and it’s likely that none of the performers had seen the music prior to the session.  Again, the influence of the blues isn’t far away. The Africa/Brass album (and do get the Complete Africa/Brass reissue from 1995 if you can) includes that poignant acknowledgement  of Black History, Song of the Underground Railroad, which we have played previously on the show. The album also includes Coltrane’s take on the English folk traditional song Greensleeves!

5. Oliver Nelson – Stolen Moments from The Blues and the Abstract Truth 

Also on Impulse! and also recorded in 1961 at the Van Gelder Recording Studio was the final studio album by arranger and tenor player Oliver Nelson, The Blues and the Abstract Truth from which comes the jazz classic Stolen Moments. Eric Dolphy is on flute (he conducted the Coltrane album above but not the track selected), Freddie Hubbard is on trumpet, George Barrow on baritone sax, Bill Evans piano, Paul Chambers bass and Roy Haynes drums. It’s worth noting how influential Taylor was on developing the visual identity of the Impulse! albums with their distinctive laminated orange and black spines and gatefold sleeves – something he would follow through with his next venture, the CTI label. Sublime, a masterpiece, and dignified melancholy are some of the pertinent  comments below the YouTube upload of Stolen Moments and this is borne out when you learn that this is a tune that’s been sampled and recorded by an impressive list of musicians, including the Ahmad Jamal Trio, the United Future Organization, Booker Ervin, Frank Zappa, Mark Murphy, Carmen MacRae, Betty Carter and Roy Ayers. It’s almost impossible to beat the original of course, but one of our personal CJ favourites is Mark Murphy’s peerless 1978 take which includes his own superb lyrics.

6. Freddie Hubbard – First Light from First Light

In 1967 Creed Taylor founded his own record label – CTI (Creed Taylor Incorporated) – and immediately began establishing a new identity. The record sleeve design here took record art to a different place from those celebrated Reid Miles Blue Note covers and, indeed, the typical artist portraits on the Impulse! albums. Using a number of photographers, and most often Pete Turner who had designed Oliver Nelson’s Blues and the Abstract Truth, these oversaturated colour covers now bore no direct relationship to the music but instead featured a dramatic image that suggested a mood. The full cover images travelled across the front and back of the jackets and often featured dramatic landscapes with animals. We all have our favourites – Neil’s include Jobim’s Wave with its giraffe against a vibrant green sky and Stanley Turrentine’s evocative Sugar cover. CTI soon acquired an impressive roster including George Benson, Ron Carter, Hubert Laws, Bob James, Stanley Turrentine and Freddie Hubbard, along with Brazilian artists, Eumir Deodato, Astrud Gilberto, Antonio Carlos Jobim and Walter Wanderley. Note the interconnections across the Blue Note, Impulse! and CTI labels here – Taylor had his pick of many of the greatest jazz artists of the day. Derek chose a favourite from trumpeter Freddie Hubbard – the title track from his First Light album. Recorded at – you’ve guessed – the Van Gelder Studio, you may well have heard this tune of Cosmic Jazz previously but Derek could not resist this opportunity to play again. He loves it, and first heard it being played in a record store in Oxford Street, London. It was clearly popular with those in the store – another listener beat Derek to the counter to seek it out but luckily they had another copy. Yes, it could be described by some as schmaltzy and saccharin, safe and bland, deeply tuneful and melodic – but that is exactly what makes it so good. The guitar break from George Benson gets Derek every time. Either side is Freddie Hubbard himself playing firstly with fire and then later with restraint – but it all still demands your attention. A chilled song; an ethereal soundscape that flows and builds said Rhythm and Life – a perfect testament. It should be noted that the other musicians included Richard Wyands on piano, Herbie Hancock on Fender Rhodes, Ron Carter bass, Jack DeJohnette drums and Airto Moreira percussion – impressive!

7. Cal Tjader – Soul Sauce (Guachi Guaro) from Soul Sauce

After leaving Impulse! Verve Records also employed Creed Taylor as producer, where he worked with Jimmy Smith (see above) but could also be  found producing vibes player Cal Tjader in the celebrated 1964 recording of the Dizzie Gillespie/Chano Pozo Latin jazz tune Soul Sauce (Guachi Guaro) – this time at the A & R Studios, New York. Tjader wasn’t of Latin origin – being born in Missouri, and raised in California to Swedish parents – but, like Dizzie Gillespie and others, had a love of Latin music and played with many Latin musicians including percussionist Willie Bobo. The tune Soul Sauce was Cal Tjader’s greatest hit and entered the Billboard Top Fifty chart in 1965. It’s a catchy, dance-orientated groove which still works today – a masterpiece of Latin jazz.

8.  Airto – Tombo in 7/4 from Fingers/Bossa Jazz Vol. 1

In an interview Taylor recalled, “I went down to Brazil a few times and spent some time at Jobim’s house and met all the players down there. Then of course after Desafinado became a hit, Jobim wanted to come up and see what New York was like, so he came in to see me right off the bat. That started a long friendship and series of albums.” It was clear from the outset that Taylor loved Brazilian music and from the early 1960s onwards he produced albums with many of Brazilian musicians in New York. Percussionist/drummer Airto Moreira arrived in New York in 1965 with his wife, vocalist Flora Purim and Tombo in 7/4 was released as a single on the CTI label in 1973. Airto and Flora both feature on this composition by the talented Uruguayan keyboard player Hugo Fatturoso, whose superb keyboard playing features prominently. The British label Soul Jazz Records re-released the number on their Bossa Jazz compilation so it should be easy to find. It is an anthemic, spirited number with a stirring climax that has had listeners singing along for years. If you’re discovering classic Brazilian recordings, it won’t be long before you come across – and remember – this classic – and if you’re looking for more classic CTI covers then its appearance on Airto’s superb 1973 Fingers album will be a further dramatic reminder.

9. Walter Wanderley Set – Capoeira from When it was Done/Bossa Jazz Vol. 1

Also re-released on the Soul Jazz compilation is the beautiful and sensitive version of Capoeira from 1968 by Walter Wanderley, whose austere-looking photo appears on the back of the notes to accompany the Soul Jazz record. This is our final Creed Taylor produced choice and is another product of the Van Gelder Studio. Walter Wanderley was a Brazilian Hammond organist born in Recife, who first became well known through his collaboration with Astrud Gilberto, but he’s probably best known for his instrumental version of the song Summer Samba which became a worldwide hit. It’s not up there among our Brazilian favourites but his music is well worth exploring further. Capoeira is an hommage to the Brazilian dance/sport/combat activity with a typically silky Don Sebesky arrangement, drawing upon a number of regular CTI musicians including Hubert Laws on English horn, flute and oboe. In all there are nine violinists, two viola players,  two cellists and a harp in the mix. Sounds sweet? It is – but don’t let that put you off.

10. James Brandon Lewis Trio – Bittersweet from No Filter

We end the show with an acknowledgement of the sudden death of the fiery and inventive trumpeter Jaimie Branch. Branch was a take-no-prisoners kind of artist with a unique sound and style. You can find her music on the ever-reliable Bandcamp, including this great album – Fly or Die Live. We’ve not got any of her music to hand for this show but she did, however, play with the James Brandon Lewis Unruly Quintet, who are seen  here at the North Sea Jazz Festival in 2019 playing an incredible, free and challenging set, with breathtaking interplay between Jaimie Branch and saxophonist James Brandon Lewis. Lewis has made several previous appearances on Cosmic Jazz and his 2017 tune Bittersweet seemed an appropriate choice on this occasion.

More from Cosmic Jazz soon.

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