Jazz CD Review: “CTI Records: The Cool Revolution”

CTI Records: The Cool Revolution

Straight Up, Deep Grooves/Big Hits, The Brazilian Connection, Cool and Classic (Masterwork Jazz)

By Fernando Gonzalez

There was a time when jazz was the popular music of the land.  But that was a long time ago on a planet far, far away. Here on earth, selling jazz has been a hard business for years. In the late ‘60s, Creed Taylor found a way. Then a producer for Verve, he created his own label — Creed Taylor Incorporated or CTI — first as an imprint of A&M Records and then, in 1970, as an independent.

Freddie Hubbard

CTI had a distinct sound, striking packaging, and a repertoire that, in the jazz tradition, often drew its repertoire from the pop music of its time in the hope of reaching a broader audience. And CTI also had the players. Its roster included  Freddie Hubbard,  Antonio Carlos Jobim, Milt Jackson, Jim Hall, George Benson, Stanley Turrentine, Hubert Laws, and Airto Moreira. Moreover, as the accompanying liner notes underscore, CTI became also a “repertory company of sorts,” one in which bona fide leaders appeared as each other’s sidemen, giving the playing an unimpeachable quality.

George Benson

CTI did sell records. How many of those who bought, say, George Benson playing Jefferson’s Airplane’s “White Rabbit,” moved on to the jazz of, say, Monk or Miles or Charlie Parker, is anybody’s guess and, perhaps, beside the point. (It can be argued that the CTI experience also set the stage for what came to be known as Smooth Jazz — and the discussions that came with it.)

Paul Desmond

This four disc set, grouped under the headings Straight Up, Deep Grooves/Big Hits, The Brazilian Connection and Cool and Classic, offers a wide angle view of  CTI and its urban-oriented Kudu sister label.

Hubert Laws

The discs includes gems such as Turrentine’s “Sugar,” Hubbard’s “Red Clay,” and a cool Paul Desmond reading of Jobim’s “Wave,” as well as tracks such as Benson’s “White Rabbit,” or Hubert Laws’s reading of Gabriel Faure’s “Pavane” or Deodato’s take on Strauss’ “Also Sprach Zarathustra .“

The tensions between art and commerce are part of the very identity of jazz.  And as this collection remind us, they are all there, in the music of CTI, well played and perfectly unresolved.

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