CTI Records Part 4: Sax (and Violins)

CTI Records Part 4: Sax (and Violins)

Written by Rudy Radelic

Like any jazz record label, CTI Records was no stranger to saxophone players. The label had its share of talent, from established names such as Stanley Turrentine and Paul Desmond to up-and-coming players like Grover Washington, Jr. Here is a saxy sampling of some of these tracks, with a few of the tracks featuring Don Sebesky’s or Bob James’ orchestrations.

After all, one cannot have enough sax and violins in their record collection!

One of my favorite tracks in the CTI catalog is Stanley Turrentine’s take on a well-known song from Milton Nascimento, “Canção do Sal,” which is often translated to “Salt Song,” as it’s titled here. The lyrics of the song are about the grueling work of the salt workers located in Cabo Frio, and was inspired by current events in the mid-1960s when the salt workers went on strike to organize for better working conditions and were repressed by Federal troops as a result.


Joe Farrell was as busy as a sideman for jazz and pop records as he was with recording his own albums, and he had a handful on the CTI label. Among his first albums for CTI is Joe Farrell Quartet, which features Jack DeJohnette, Dave Holland, Chick Corea, and John McLaughlin, who penned the leadoff track on the album “Follow Your Heart.”


Paul Desmond, saxophonist for Dave Brubeck, had recorded a duo of records for Creed Taylor while the CTI label was still under the A&M Records umbrella (Summertime and From the Hot Afternoon). But this album, Skylark, seemed an unlikely combination with an unusual group that featured Jack DeJohnette and Ron Carter, along with a duo of guitarists (Gene Bertoncini on rhythm guitar, and Gábor Szabó as an electric guitar soloist) and Bob James on keyboards. Leading off the album is his reworking of the title track of one of his RCA albums – “Take Ten.”


Over on CTI’s sibling Kudu label, Grover Washington, Jr. had his share of recordings. On his album Soul Box, he gives a side-long reworking of the song “Trouble Man,” penned by his pal Marvin Gaye. Like most CTI recordings, the sidemen are all familiar names (Billy Cobham, Ron Carter, Idris Muhammad, Airto Moreira, and others), with Bob James (keyboards) and Eric Gale (guitar) taking lengthy solos.


Where Grover Washington, Jr. used a mix of soul and jazz in his recipe, alto saxophonist Hank Crawford offers a heavy dose of blues and funk on his Kudu album Help Me Make It Through the Night. The title track with Crawford, Richard Tee (Hammond B3 organ) and Cornell Dupree (guitar) soloing, lays the groove on thick.


As was common on many CTI albums, musicians who were leaders on their own albums also played prominent roles on their fellow CTI stablemates’ records. Percussionist Ray Barretto recorded an excellent album, La Cuna, for the label in 1979, and Joe Farrell provided most of the lead voicing for the album. His tenor was featured on two tracks (including “The Old Castle” which was included in our last CTI installment), his flute on another, and soprano sax on “Doloroso.”


CTI would occasionally pair up headlining musicians for an album project. Cherry pairs Stanley Turrentine with Milt Jackson. The album features Lee Morgan’s “Speedball,” with both Turrentine and Jackson having ample room to solo.


Finally, Yusef Lateef recorded a few albums for CTI, and this is apparently one that fans either love or hate – Autophysiopsychic. It is more deeply-rooted in funk than jazz, and the track below (“Look on Your Right Side”) features vocals. Still, Lateef and guest soloist Art Farmer get time for some solo breaks in this track.


Our next article in the series will highlight another instrumental category. Stay tuned.

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