Milt Jackson – Sunflower – CTI/ PurePleasure CT16024 – audiophile vinyl (1972) ***½:
(Milt Jackson – vibes; Freddie Hubbard – trumpet, Flugelhorn; Herbie Hancock – piano; Jay Berliner – guitar; Ron Carter – bass; Billy Cobham – drums; Ralph MacDonald – percussion; George Marge – clarinet, English horn, flute, piccolo flute; Phil Bodner – English horn, flute; Romeo Penque – English horn, flute, oboe; Margaret Ross – harp; Arranger and conductor – Don Sebesky; Produced by Creed Taylor)
Sunflower was recorded over two days in December, 1972, at Rudy Van Gelder’s studio in New Jersey. It was Milt Jackson’s first album for the CTI label, run by Creed Taylor. Heavy on orchestration (a trademark for Creed Taylor), Don Sebesky both conducted the chamber orchestra ( nine violins and three cellos), and did the lovely arrangements. Taylor used a super star line-up to back Jackson with a front line band. It was absolutely an “A” list, made up of Herbie Hancock, Freddie Hubbard, Ron Carter and Billy Cobham.
There were times when Creed Taylor’s use of strings complemented the jazz arrangements without intruding, and at times overwhelming the jazz musicians. Sunflower barely straddled this fine line, as there are times when the listener wishes the strings were dialed back. On the PurePleasure LP reissue, engineer Ray Staff could not interfere with the intent of CTI, and his remastering brings forth no complaints.
There are four extended tracks on this LP. The first and last track were written by Milt Jackson and Freddie Hubbard respectively, while the other two songs are pop hits of the day. “For Someone I Love” opens with flamenco guitar by Jay Berliner before Hubbard, Hancock, and Jackson exchange solos and take the song into a ballad reading. Michel Legrand’s “What are You Doing the Rest of Your Life” is a strong feature for Milt’s vibes. “People Make the World Go Round” opens with a great bass solo by Ron Carter. There is lots of ensemble playing and Herbie Hancock’s Fender Rhodes (big in the ‘70s, but not so much in today’s recordings) shines. The title track is a Hubbard composition that can be found on other CTI albums from that period. It has a strong Latin beat and highlights Freddie Hubbard in his prime.
The lesser-used horns and reed instruments add greatly to the arrangements. I wish I could say the same for the sometimes overbearing strings. For fans of this classic album, I can recommend the warmth of the audiophile vinyl over the prior CD versions.
Side 1: For Someone I Love, What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life
Side 2: People Make the World Go Round, Sunflower