Music

Stanley Turrentine: Jazz Moods -- Cool

Will Layman

Vintage CTI recordings that get the balance between jazz and schmaltz just about right.


Stanley Turrentine

Jazz Moods -- Cool

Label: Legacy
US Release Date: 2005-04-19
UK Release Date: Available as import
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Creed Taylor's CTI label was a significant player in commercial jazz in the 1970s, mainly because all its competition had died away. It's not that the '70s was a bad time for jazz -- what with the AACM flowering in Chicago and the loft scene festering in New York. But mainstream audiences saw a bleak period: jazz clubs were closing, radio outlets were few, festivals were turning to R&B and rock, and musicians were scrambling for a living.

It seemed that only Mr. Taylor, who had wedded Wes Montgomery's guitar to a string section and some Beatles tunes at Verve a decade earlier, had the touch for selling this music. He was signing great talent (Freddie Hubbard, Milt Jackson, Ron Carter, Herbie Hancock, Jim Hall), then matching it to arrangements and tunes that let the players blow over easy funk grooves, tasteful electric pianos, and lickety-split drumming. Heck, Creed even had a top ten hit in the US and UK with Eumir Deodato's arrangement of "Also Sprach Zarathustra", the theme from Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. For many, the better stuff that CTI put out defines the decade almost as well as Annie Hall or Watergate.

Many of the best marriages to take place under CTI's roof involved tenor saxophonist Stanley Turrentine. Turrentine was a natural for CTI. Born in Pittsburgh in 1934, Turrentine's first pro gig was for Lowell Fulson's blues band, featuring Ray Charles on piano. Turrentine always had that greasy-sweet tenor sound, and it was refined further when he played with Earl Bostic and then Max Roach. Married for a time to organist Shirley Scott and ultimately recording in the chitlin-bop mode for Blue Note, Turrentine was a saxophone player whose sound and inclinations bridged "serious jazz" and funky styles. And he is also one of those jazz players who, after only a single note, is immediately recognizable for his distinctive tone.

This edition of the Jazz Moods series collects many of Turrentine's finest tracks for CTI. While with the label, Turrentine recorded in different guises: with bossa-nova singer Gilberto, with all-star groupings, with orchestras, and in organ combos. Unlike many of his CTI label-mates, Turrentine managed to make the most of almost every one of these mostly compromised settings.

The best tracks in this collection are still the least-adorned and schmaltzed-up small group sides. Turrentine's signature tune was a modified minor blues called "Sugar" that was irresistible in any setting. But on the album of the same name, Mr. T was partnered with no less a band than George Benson on guitar, Freddie Hubbard on trumpet, and Ron Carter on acoustic bass. This was back before Benson was "Breezin'", and when he was simply the most soulful jazz guitarist on the planet. His solo seems like the highlight until Turrentine twists his sweet sound into a licorice-tart blues nugget. It's great.

"Sunshine Alley" is from the same date and is a super feature for Butch Cornell's soulful organ, someone out of Turrentine's working band -- a rarity in the CTI world. There was a tremendous relaxation around this date, and it's the only one represented by two tracks on the disc.

Relaxation was inherent in Turrentine's playing, and that may have been why he was frequently employed in the Stan Getz role on bossa dates. On this collection we get the title track from the CTI album Salt Song, which features a lovely Deodato arrangement of the Jobim tune. Again, with names like Horace Parlan, Airto Moreira, Hubert Laws, and Eric Gale on board, you knew this was going to be slick but high-quality material.

Turrentine had a minor "hit" with "Pieces of Dreams", a Michel LeGrand tune that Turrentine turned into a bit of a standard. The CTI recording is somewhat odd -- marrying a tight small-group arrangement featuring a finger-lickin' Rhodes solo by Harold Mabern to a merely serviceable string arrangement and a positively intrusive organ part. Still, this track is preferable to the "hit" version Turrentine recorded a year or so later for Fantasy that was marred even more by background vocals and strings so syrupy they would make Aunt Jemima pine for skim milk.

Another great track is the Lee Morgan tune "Speedball", from the album Cherry with vibes master Milt Jackson. Jackson, who also played with Ray Charles, taps into Turrentine's bluesy streak and forces Mr. T to play harder and with more attack than usual. This kind of stuff was enough to nurture young jazz fans through the 1970s, leading them to the better stuff of ten-years past on Blue Note or Prestige or Atlantic.

Indeed, it was possible to hear something like "Pieces of Dreams" and move in two directions at once. There was the old stuff to discover -- music that could burst on your ears and drag you back to Bird and Diz, maybe even further back to Ben Webster or Pres. Then there was the new wave of soulful saxophonists who were listening to The Sugar Man -- folks like Grover Washington, Jr. or even Dave Sanborn. Fans who heard only the latter -- the disciples of Mr. T rather than his mentors -- were possibly headed toward "smooth jazz" and its various Velveeta abuses. But so many heard it all: the great tone, the truth of the blues, and the swagger of having played all those dates through all the worst places in the rural south.

After his CTI years, Turrentine played both better and worse music. He made some major label discs, including a somewhat squishy Blue Note album, Wonderland, dedicated to the music of Stevie Wonder. He made a highly respectable small group disc, More Than a Mood, on Musicmasters with Hubbard, Cedar Walton, Ron Carter and Billy Higgins. But, after his '60s Blue Notes, the CTI records -- warts and all -- will be what we remember. Toward the end of his career, after he had settled down in the area where I live, I saw him a time or two. People always asked for "Sugar" or "Pieces of Dreams". And, you know, it was nice to hear them again.

The same goes for this disc.

6

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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