California Concert – The Hollywood Palladium – CTI Records/Sony Masterworks

by | Jun 2, 2011 | Jazz CD Reviews | 0 comments

California Concert – The Hollywood Palladium – CTI Records/Sony Masterworks 88697 76405 (2 CDs), 154:00 *****:

(George Benson – guitar; Freddie Hubbard – trumpet, flugelhorn; Hubert Laws – flute; Stanley Turrentine – tenor saxophone; Hank Crawford – alto saxophone; Johnny Hammond – organ, electric piano; Ron Carter – bass; Billy Cobham – drums; Airto – percussion)

In 1971, the music scene was dominated by rock and pop. The highest grossing tours were likely to be teen idols or British rock bands. Jazz was reserved for smaller club venues. The commercial apex of the bop and subsequent jazz movements had lost momentum. CTI Records changed that dynamic. The stable of artists redefined the idiom. Recently CTI has re-released a series of their eminent catalogue, much to the delight of music fans everywhere. The latest project is a reissue of this landmark 1971 all-star performance. Not only was this an unprecedented lineup (of label artists), it took place in a larger setting. This subtle logistic enhanced the accessibility of this “small club” product.     
California Concert/The Hollywood Palladium
kicks off strongly and never relents. The opening track on Disc One (previously unreleased, and nearly twenty-four minutes long), “Impressions” is an exquisite interpretation of a Coltrane composition. A torrent of solos ensues. Anyone with an awareness of George Benson that is defined by his soulful jazz of the mid-seventies will get to appreciate his guitar virtuosity. Turrentine (saxophone), Laws (flute), Hubbard (trumpet) and Hammond (organ) all contribute hot solos. Law resuscitates his stunning version of James Taylor’s “Fire And Rain” (from Afro-Classic). The improvisation on flute is mesmerizing. Freddie Hubbard’s classic, “Red Clay” (from the album of the same name) is expressed with a tight groove by Carter (bass) and Cobham (drums). Hubbard explodes with a brilliant solo, followed by another energetic Turrentine one. Carter delivers a nimble turn on bass, as the piece shifts from instrument to instrument. Another unreleased track, Miles Davis’ “So What” showcases Benson, while eliminating the horns. The piece feels like a precursor to the ensuing fusion movement.

Disc Two is equally brilliant. “Here’s That Rainy Day” retains its classy lyricism with Hubbard’s delicate inspired play. A delicate tempo change is embraced by Laws.  This project is distinguished by the perceptive fill-ins by the band members. Each musician is committed to being unobtrusive to the featured player. A certain highlight is the Carole King A.M. staple, “It’s Too Late”. This arrangement is driven by the funk/groove chops of Hammond’s organ. Cobham executes a crisp solo, and Crawford shines on alto as the ensemble transforms this song. Turrentine’s inspired tenor work is the embodiment of cool jazz on his signature opus, “Sugar”. Hubbard and Benson follow before Carter electrifies the audience with a low register bass part. “Leaving West” (a new song by Carter and Turrentine) exhibits a Latin feel. Percussionist, Airto is scintillating on the various percussion instruments, as the rhythm section dominates the middle segment. Benson unleashes one boisterous guitar riff after another. The closing version of “Straight Life” (from an earlier Hubbard album) is empowered by the vigorous trumpeter and the stellar cohesion of this incandescent ensemble. The various cuts are lengthy and capture the creativity and expertise of these musicians.   
The original master tapes have been re-recorded with precise warm-toned finesse by master engineer Rudy Van Gelder. Excerpts from the original CTI Records liner notes (including the $5 advance, $6 door price) offer valuable insight into the environment surrounding the “CTI Summer Jazz” phenomenon. It is unusual for a greatly anticipated all-star collaboration to meet lofty expectations…but California Concert exceeds them.

Disc One: Impressions; Fire And Rain; Red Clay; Blues West; So What
Disc Two: Here’s That Rainy Day; It’s Too Late; Sugar; Leaving West; Straight Life

— Robbie Gerson

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