“And now straight ahead, good jazz…”
It’s an all too rare experience when an album actually lives up to its expectations and then some. Fortunately, this is one of those albums. Recorded on July 18, 1971 at the Hollywood Palladium, California Concert captures a single night of smoking jazz played by a stunning collaboration of CTI musicians spread across two discs. It is everything it should be and more than you could hope for. The performances, played by a stellar cast of jazz greats, are hypnotically grooving and the crowd is ecstatically appreciative.
Before diving into the performances we have to mention the sound which is simply stellar, especially for a live recording. Somehow, that slick, thick, warm CTI sound transferred to a live performance and the recording engineers did an excellent job of capturing the atmosphere – there is a particular warmth to the recording that will make CTI Jazz fans feel right at home. Each instrument is crisp and clear and the stereo imaging is excellent. The drums and percussion are especially nice and Ron Carter’s bass is wonderfully low and fluid. All live jazz recordings should sound this good! Of course, I would expect no less from CTI…
Because each song is epic in both content and length – the shortest song is 7 minutes and the rest all run about 15 minutes or more – we thought it best to do a song by song breakdown. It is really the only way to describe such a stunning album full of truly inspired creativity.
1. “Impressions” (23:35) – Things kick off with an exuberant introduction of all the players as, one by one, they lean into a long, mid-tempo version of Coltrane’s jazz classic. The rhythm section gets things grooving and the band settles into a slow simmer that is simply mesmerizing. The main melody is simply gorgeous and the full line-up of horns and flute are the perfect compliment to the overall laid back nature of the groove. Solos are taken by Turrentine on sax, Benson on guitar, Hubbard on trumpet, Laws on flute, Hammond on B3 organ, and a wonderfully inventive Carter on bass. A breakdown of percussion and drums follows and the transition back into the main theme is nothing short of amazing.
2. “Fire and Rain” (11:42) – Hubert Laws’ much beloved version of James Taylor’s classic turns the studio version inside-out and back again. The intro features understated beauty and almost lullaby-like musings which are then followed by a serious groove set up by Ron Carter on bass. Laws then proceeds to tear things apart on the flute in a most jazz-like manner. His lines dart in and out of that ever growing groove with effortless transitions between pure groove and abstract musicality. Guitarist George Benson follows with a remarkably fluid solo full of gutbucket riffs. As the song heads back into the main theme the crowd is audibly stunned at what they have just experienced.
3. “Red Clay” (14:26) – Hubbard’s classic, and one of the most well revered of CTI jazz tracks, is played with a heavy dose of class and wonderful accompaniment by everyone involved. Once again a serious groove is laid down by Carter on bass and Cobham on drums. The main theme ushers in a slew of solos beginning with Hubbard’s truly exciting leads on trumpet. This is followed by a mesmerizing sax solo from Turrentine full of muscular riffing and blowing (I don’t know what he was smoking at this show but he sounds as amazing as ever throughout). Benson flies in for another fluid solo as the drums and percussion pick things up quite a bit in the groove. Hubbard dashes back in with a flurry of notes that sets the stage for a stunning Carter solo on bass. How does he play with such unwavering authority? Things reach a pin drop silence as Carter returns to the main theme and drums and organ pick up the beat. Amazing.
4. “Blues West” (20:56) – Never heard before on a studio recording, the song is full of classic late night jazz musings that sound like it could have been a CTI hit. The groove is laid down by the rhythm section as Turrentine proceeds to lay down yet another stunning solo. All of a sudden, even on that stage full of seriously heavy jazz players, Turrentine stands alone and it becomes his show. Not to be outdone however, Benson floats in with a laid back solo that just oozes pure jazz class. This is followed by exciting solos from Hubbard, Laws, and Hammond on Fender Rhodes piano, all while Carter keeps a steady walking bass line grooving in the background.
5. “So What” (7:12) – Carter lays down the classic Miles Davis riff on bass as Cobham on drums and Airto on percussion dance around him. This is strictly a show for guitarist George Benson to strut his stuff all over the stage and strut he does. The band lays it down deep while he floats over the top with amazing dexterity and the interplay between the musicians is simply astounding.
1. “Here’s That Rainy Day” (8:39) – The only real breather throughout the show is this gorgeous ballad that proves just how capable this group of musicians were at providing classic Blue Note style jazz. For a little more than 8 minutes we are watching the old record spin on the turntable as time settles back to a slower, and simpler place. All is well with the world as Hubbard plays downright beautiful notes on flugelhorn as the band provides sympathetic and nimble backing. Laws provides an equally gorgeous flute solo and the entire affair is truly, truly exceptional.
2. “It’s Too Late” (18:31)– Wow. Just wow. Just turn it up and sit back and marvel at Johnny Hammond’s amazing interpretation of this early 70s pop hit. Where the studio version – which can be found on the recent CTI Cool Revolution set – was a deep, laid back groove this is just complete pandemonium. Things start off safe enough as the band lays down the groove nice and easy. Benson comes in with a gutbucket solo full of pure funk attitude as the rhythm section, especially drummer Billy Cobham, picks up the pace and moves things along like a fiery dragon slithering across the stage. Deeper and deeper Benson goes into the groove which by now is reaching a hypnotic groove that just boils with excitement. But really, they’re just getting started…
Hammond’s turn now on B3 organ. He eases into the groove slowly, careful so as to not rupture the low smoking atmosphere. The band follows his lead and the slow simmer becomes a raging boil. The crowd, following the band’s enthusiasm, responds in kind as things reach a fever pitch. Hammond lays it all out, every trick he has, and the B3 organ sounds like it’s going to explode at any minute. Just when you think he can’t possibly take things any higher, when you think the limitations of the B3 are truly exhausted, Hammond just keeps going. The crowd is losing their minds, Hammond is just on another plane of existence, and the rhythm section just keeps hammering away.
It is by far one of the most exciting live jazz moments of all time. Seriously, I’m listening as I write this and I am covered in goosebumps and can’t stop grooving my entire body. This is serious business. Jeez…Cobham takes a drum solo that loses none of the preceding electricity and when the band comes back into the fold the emcee is so excited he can’t help but yell “How ’bout that?!” into the mic. The crowd loses their heads and the whole place erupts with group mind appreciation. No, more than appreciation, it’s simply downright and utter disbelief.
3. “Sugar” (13:32) – Speaking of the crowd going nuts, it’s hard to really describe the complete enthusiasm that is heard when the opening notes of Stanley Turrentine’s stone cold jazz classic is introduced. One of my favorite jazz riffs of all time and it’s played perfectly by the band in a stunning live atmosphere. Turrentine’s solo is perfect in every way and full of that deep blue sound of his. Hubbard flies in to help out the jam and is then followed by Benson on guitar. Carter takes a deep solo that hits some of the lowest notes known to man while the band slinks back into the main riff.
4. “Leaving West” (15:52) – Another stunning Turrentine led jam that takes a late night blues riff and gives it a Latin bossa nova kind of feel. Turrentine’s solo is once again a benchmark of time and rhythm, full of deeply played blues leanings and that trademark breathy sound of his. It may just be his best solo of the night as he lays deep in the pocket coming up with riff after riff of pure back alley jazz. What’s most stunning about this track is the rhythm section of Carter, Cobham, and Airto. They play with a tight but loose feel as they all lock into one another in a stop/start funk groove that never wavers. Their timing is impeccable and allows everyone who solos overtop to sound even better. Their breakdown in the middle of the jam is truly an exciting moment that somehow goes outside the groove without ever really leaving too far. The blend of Airto’s percussion with Cobham’s cymbal heavy drumming is the perfect compliment to Carter’s solid bass.
5. “Straight Life” (19:33) – What an excellent way to end the show, with a straight ahead monster groove that is as classy as it is awesome. Hubbard’s title track from his follow-up to the Red Clay album comes to life in this stunning version full of excellent solos from Hubbard, an especially animated Benson, a riff heavy Turrentine, Hammond on organ and Cobham on drums. There is a true group mind at work and the live context of the song really gives it an exciting lift. Indeed, when the final notes have rung and the announcer lets you know the musicians one last time, it is a truly spellbinding experience.
So there you have it, one incredible live album by one incredible group of musicians. You may need some serious time on your hands to take it all in but man, when you do, it is just awesome. Highly recommended!