Fats Theus - Black Out

Fats Theus Black Out (CTI 1970)

A deviation from the polished jazz catalogue of Creed Taylor’s CTI label, saxophonist Fats Theus’ Black Out is a gritty funk jazz session with the overpowering presence of hard bop and funk jazz heavyweights Grant Green and Idris Muhammad.

Fats Theus - Black Out

Personnel

Fats Theus (tenor saxophone), Grant Green (guitar), Clarence Palmer (organ), Chuck Rainey (bass), Jimmy Lewis (bass), Idris Muhammad (drums)

Recorded

on July 16 & 22, 1970 at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey

Released

as CTI 1005 in 1970

Track listing

Side A:
Black Out
Light Sings
Bed Of Nails
Side B:
Stone Flower
Moonlight In Vermont
Check It Out


Afootnote of the soul and funk jazz era, the life story of saxophonist Arthur James “Fats” Theus remains largely obscure. Originating from the West Coast r&b scene in the fifties, as a logical outcome Arthur James “Fats” Theus cooperated with jazz organists the following decade, including Reuben Wilson. A concise discography reveals (to the knowledge of Flophouse) recordings with organist Billy Larkin And The Delegates (Hold On! – World Pacific, 1965; Ain’t That A Groove! – World Pacific, 1966), organist Jimmy McGriff (I’ve Got A New Woman – Solid State, 1968; The Worm – Solid State, 1968 and Step One – Solid State, 1969) and guitarist O’Donel Levy (Black Velvet – Groove Merchant, 1972). The blues lick The Worm, which Theus wrote for the McGriff date, was a succesful single.

Black Out is one of the earliest CTI sessions (CTI was an imprint of A&M and went independent in 1970) and cousin to the late sixties/early seventies funk jazz sessions on Prestige and Blue Note. Green had made his comeback on Blue Note after his first prolific stint from 1960 to 1965, this time in funk jazz vein, the first being Carryin’ On in 1969. That album also included the organist who’s present on Black Out, Clarence Palmer. Muhammad was a Blue Note and Prestige staple. Green and Muhammad carry the album. The grit and sleaze is in Muhammad’s bones and his funky beat is hypnotic. Green fine-tunes the basic changes with red-hot, articulate phrasing. Theus, albeit clearly operating in their shadow, occasionally does away with his formulaic phrases and jumps from one corner of a tune’s fabric to the other, notably on the title track. Theus embellishes the funky bossa tune Stone Flower with mean staccato phrases and whirling arpeggios.

Theus employs a smooth, high-pitched sound one usually doesn’t associate with late sixties funk jazz. Sound and style-wise, comparing Theus’ leadership date with the saxophonist’s side dates has intriguing results. On the three crackerjack McGriff albums, the Billy Larkin affairs as well as O’Donel Levy’s easy listening funk album Black Velvet, by and large, Theus consistently uses his slightly metallic sound. One is led to consider for a minute that the saxophonist plays the electric Varitone sax, following the footsteps of Eddie Harris and Sonny Stitt. At any rate it has become evident that it’s the signature tone of Fats Theus. Style-wise, Theus fluently adjusts to the bluesy and funky surroundings, yet also throws in a number of excellent, bop-inflected phrases, notably on Easter Parade of McGriff’s big city blues fest Step One LP.

Uplifting funk galore, perhaps Light Sings is the highlight on Black Out. Palmer plays with gusto without being overbearing, Muhammad’s driving beat and propulsive single strokes cause a stir, Green’s liquid silver notes sizzle, his phrases bite and bark. Black Out was Green’s sole appearence on CTI. Much greasier than the slick A&M/CTI albums that star guitarist George Benson was turning in at that time.

Stanley Turrentine - Sugar

Stanley Turrentine Sugar (CTI 1971)

Sugar, Stanley Turrentine’s first release on CTI, catapulted the tenorist into jazz stardom. It sold extremely well, in spite of its lenghty trio of tunes. A big part of the album’s mass appeal must be attributed to producer Creed Taylor. Taylor, also responsible for the big break of Jimmy Smith on Verve in the mid-sixties and George Benson on CTI in the early seventies, embedded Turrentine’s down-home hard bop style in streamlined jazz funk terrain. The result is a mixed bag.

Stanley Turrentine - Sugar

Personnel

Stanley Turrentine (tenor saxophone), Freddie Hubbard (trumpet), George Benson (guitar), Ron Carter (bass), Lonnie Liston Smith (electric piano A1)), Butch Cornell (organ A2, B1), Billy Kaye (drums)

Recorded

on November 20, 1970 at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey

Released

as CTI 6005 in 1971

Track listing

Side A:
Sugar
Sunshine Alley
Side B:
Impressions


Almost inevitably Taylor’s marketing strategies have as a consequence that something is lost. In this case, Turrentine’s smoky, blues-drenched sound and style; vintage Turrentine that is to be found on his many releases from the sixties, solo and with his wife, organist Shirley Scott on Blue Note and Prestige, and as a sideman with, among others, Jimmy Smith, Kenny Burrell and Max Roach.

On the whole, the all-star cast as well as newcomers Butch Cornell and Lonnie Liston Smith turn in top-notch performances and the mood is joyful and relaxed. The title track is a mellow groove. And even if Turrentine’s sound, in comparison to his ‘breathy’ sound of the sixties, is the musical equivalent of a silken scarf, his flowing, imaginative statements are proof of what a class act Turrentine is.

Latin tune Sunshine Alley, written by organist Butch Cornell, has an equally relaxed vibe. George Benson adds fiery, r&b-tinged licks to the flashy and pyrotechnical pallette of phrases that the guitarist demonstrated up until then. It’s a welcome change of mood. Hubbard’s solo starts with a climactic bunch of phrases, which obstructs a reasonable build-up. Turrentine seems contaminated and sounds a bit over-excited too.

The take on John Coltrane’s Impressions includes inventive solo’s by Hubbard and Benson and Turrentine’s lines are carefully crafted. Nonetheless, there is a decisive lack of swing that makes it hard to sit out. A couple of concise tunes on side B instead of the cumbersome version of Impressions would certainly have added to the attraction of Sugar, artistically and arguably also on a commercial level. Wouldn’t it have sold even better with a spicy side B?

Sugar is slick but excellent, not heartless but not really endearing either. It’s a commercial succes but in an artistic sense it’s nowhere near the best Blue Note albums by Stanley Turrentine.

Kenny Burrell - God Bless The Child

Kenny Burrell God Bless The Child (CTI 1971)

Naming a record God Bless The Child inevitably brings forth a lot of expectations. Could one live up to them after re-imagining the touching version of the song’s composer Billie Holiday – she and co-writer Herzog Jr. wrote about a subject matter close to her vest – and the haunting, deconstructive solo rendition of Eric Dolphy? It’s not easy, and Kenny Burrell sure doesn’t. It seems that for him, it was just another lovely tune and he’s not really into it – and for producer Creed Taylor just another song allowed to be buried in schmaltzy cello sections.

Kenny Burrell - God Bless The Child

Personnel

Kenny Burrell (guitar), Freddie Hubbard (trumpet), Hubert Laws (flute), Richard Wynands (piano, electric piano), Hugh Lawson (electric piano), Ron Carter (bass), Billy Cobham (drums), Ray Baretto (percussion), Airto Moreira (percussion), Seymour Barab, Charles McCracken, George Ricci, Lucien Smit, Alan Schmit (cello section), Don Sebesky (arranger, conductor)

Recorded

on April 28 and May 11 & 25, 1971 at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey

Released

as CTI 6011 in 1971

Track listing

Side A:
Be Yourself
Love Is The Answer
Do What You Gotta Do
Side B:
A Child Is Born
God Bless The Child


It’s not a total failure. After all, it’s Kenny Burrell. Having been much admired by critics and public alike a decade before turning over this album, Burrell felt comfortable in many surroundings and delivered countless memorable contributions to the straight, bluesy, bossa and comparatively adventurous sides of jazz. God Bless The Child has its moments and they invariably have to do – as opposed to a multitude of strings, keyboards and percussion – with Kenny Burrell’s many fine licks.

One can do without the boring world music jam of Love Is All The Way, but Burrell’s solo runs sound like exotic alleyways that always seems to lead to an opening in the labyrinth. The crisp and clear Do What You Gotta Do wouldn’t have been out of place on one of Burrell’s career peaks, 1963’s Midnight Blue, if it wasn’t for five cello’s moving in straight from a Mel Torme delivery truck.

Burrell’s best soloing is heard in Be Yourself; it’s inventive and typically Burrell – he doesn’t throw it at you in bold strikes but instead tells a story in a laid-back yet exciting way. Unfortunately, Be Yourself gets the same string treatment as the rest of the album. By this time, the album’s production has dulled the senses considerably.

God Bless The Child is almost as much a Creed Taylor record as it is a Kenny Burrell record. Taylor, imperative in moving jazz forward with his production and A&R work for Impulse and Verve, was very succesful in transforming the paths of sixties luminaries into lucrative endeavors by means of his own company Creed Taylor Inc. Musicians (although sidemen sometimes have a different story to tell) were glad of it – $! – and rightfully so, they had to make a living. The downside of CTI was that Taylor was a man who liked to be in control. More often than not, the net result of such an abundance of money and control in music biz, particularly onwards from the early seventies, has been indulgence; suddenly there are myriad possibilities production and personel-wise (multitrack consoles, strings and brass-sections, two or more percussionists, keyboard-landscapes) and they more often than not tend to lead, in my view, to a creative void and sterile recordings. The finest recordings, on the other hand, are often born out of necessity – relative lack studio time and personel, more primitive equipment – which pipes up expressiveness.

One outcome of Creed Taylor’s overpowering presence in the dollar department and control room was on my turntable. It’s bland, slick. It was a career boost for Kenny Burrell, but not an album to fondly remember and be fondly remembered for.