I do enjoy rediscovering the music and people from the Creed Taylor era. I’ve often mused that I’d like to be able to redit and remix a set of classic CTI tracks from the stems of original masters. Not the later dance music fashioned tracks, but some of the earlier classic jazz tracks. The opportunity to bring them up to date would be great.

And so it was that I was excited to receive an email about a new album of covers released in August 2021. I bought the album from bandcamp[1]https://komosrecords.bandcamp.com/album/power-of-soul-the-music-of-cti, loaded it up on my home streaming server and was blown away. These were not just plain covers done by a group of jazz wanna-be’s it was an album of carefully considered, well chosen tracks from the CTI pantheon played by experienced jazz musicians.

Just to make sure I wasn’t overvaluing the album, I asked CTI and Jazz specialist and reviewer Doug Payne to take a listen. Doug agreed. He liked the album so much, he agreed to review it for ctproduced. Press play and read on.

Over the years, the music of CTI has been frequently compiled and the label’s signature tunes have been covered. But producer Creed Taylor’s monumental legacy hasn’t garnered the canonical coverage that other iconic jazz labels like Prestige, Impulse and Blue Note have received. Until now.

Enter French saxophonist Julien Lourau. Born in 1970, Lourau has been active on the French music scene as far back as the nineties. He has played with Laurent Cugny, Abbey Lincoln and, recently, with the Chicago-based Makaya McCraven, who is taking on the Blue Note label on a forthcoming album of his own.

As a leader, Lourau has put out ten discs since 1995 in a variety of settings that traverse traditional and electronic jazz. He’s comfortable in duos, trios and quartets. In other words, he’s a restless and relentless explorer of the great swath of music that jazz can be.

Picture of Julien Lourau by Nikola Cindric
JULIEN LOURAU par Nikola Cindric

Lourau’s sound on tenor suggests something to this listener of Stan Getz’s gift for melodic invention and Eddie Harris’ flair for catchy turns of phrase with a dash of David Murray’s edgy modernism. On soprano, Lourau leans more toward Weather Report-era Wayne Shorter expressiveness but – at least here – it’s undeniably informed by Grover Washington, Jr.’s soulful struts.

There is, of course, some danger in taking on an artist’s or, in this case, a label’s canon. Some can be too reverential and boring. And some, like the 2005 Impulse tribute Impulsive! Revolutionary Jazz Reworked, are downright absurd. On the other hand, the 2018 Sgt. Pepper tribute, A Day in the Life – Impressions of Pepper was mostly a success: a 21st century jazz reimagining of a 20th century pop classic.

Power of Soul is a success in much the same way. But instead of various artists exploring what amounts to the various artists of the CTI All Stars, we have a core quartet led by an inspired and inspiring soloist. Here, Lourau eschews the string and horn embellishments of many-a CTI recording, letting his two-keyboard frontline “orchestrate” as necessary.

Indeed, this group is all about economy. Lourau and Mathieu Debordes handle the arrangements beautifully: they’re obviously scaled down and fit just perfectly, even with such heavily-arranged originals like “Psalm 150” and “Firebird/Birds of Fire.”

Initially inspired by the scope of the sound and the groove of Stanley Turrentine’s 1971 CTI classic Salt Song, Lourau set about listening to many albums in the CTI catalog before settling on ten choices for this disc.

By no means is this a “greatest hits” package, celebrating CTI’s best-known work. There are many surprises here that not only lean toward Lourau’s personal favorites but can awaken even the most dedicated CTI fan – like me – to hidden gems in the label’s vast catalog.

The obvious choices here are Freddie Hubbard’s “Red Clay” – which gets a complete overhaul, but not the kind so many overthinker/re-imaginers usually ruin originals with – and the album’s opener, a cover of the Stylistics’ “People Make the World Go Round,” from a 1973 CTI album by Milt Jackson (also with Freddie Hubbard). Both are pretty straight-forward, but don’t reveal enough of the lovely surprise evident throughout this disc.

The great rethinks are Bob James’ well-updated “Westchester Lady”; Jimi Hendrix’s “Power of Soul,” the title track to Idris Muhammad’s 1974 Kudu album, with Lourau summoning the ghost of Joe Farrell (who did his best work for CTI); and Clare Fischer’s “In the Beginning,” the title track of Hubert Laws’ 1974 CTI album, with Lourau rolling in the fields of Joe Henderson (heard on CTI albums by Freddie Hubbard, Ron Carter and Art Farmer).

Other highlights include the Zawinul-esque “Psalm 150,” a Jimmy Webb tune originally performed by Jackie & Roy on Don Sebesky’s 1973 Giant Box, with Lourau performing miracles on soprano in a way that would make Wayne Shorter proud; Bob James’ “Piece of Mind,” originally recorded by Idris Muhammad (and also recently covered by drummer Adonis Rose); and Lourau’s version of Stanley Turrentine’s “Don’t Mess with Mister ‘T’,” that is closer to Marvin Gaye’s original, with Turrentine-esque flourishes added to the finale.

One of the set’s nicest surprises is the closing cover of guitarist Arthur Adams’ beautiful “Love and Peace.” Originally featured on Quincy Jones’ 1969 album Walking in Space, the song stands out – even here – as positively un-CTI-ish. (Q’s record predates CTI going independent and is as much, if not more, his conception as Creed Taylor’s.)

But Lourau has cleverly evinced that “Love and Peace” stands for all that made CTI great in the first place: timeless tunes, top players, alchemical musical chemistry, all brought together under the auspices of Creed Taylor’s singular and signature sensibilities. In that sense, Lourau’s take on “Love and Peace” – which adds two horns and frequent Lourau associate Bo Zulfikarpasic on guitar – stands as an encore; a loving tribute to Creed Taylor and the music of CTI.

Throughout, Lourau’s playing is joyous, impassioned, even infectious. His song choices – the bulk of which are surprisingly not even CTI originals – are inspired: they show how Taylor and company made these songs their own. Lourau’s quartet is in great form here, lending a reverent yet happily relevant take on a classic body of work.

Track Listing:
1. People Make the World Go Round (originally on Milt Jackson’s Sunflower [1973])
2. Psalm 150 (originally on Don Sebesky’s Giant Box [1973])
3. Westchester Lady (originally on Bob James’ Bob James Three [1976])
4. Piece of Mind (originally on Idris Muhammad’s Power of Soul [1974])
5. Power of Soul (also on Power of Soul [1974])
6. Don’t Mess with Mister T (originally on Stanley Turrentine’s Don’t Mess with Mister T [1973])
7. Firebird/Birds of Fire (also on Giant Box [1973])
8. Red Clay (originally on Freddie Hubbard’s Red Clay [1970])
9. In the Beginning (originally on Hubert Laws’ In the Beginning [1974])
10. Love and Peace (originally on Quincy Jones’ Walking in Space [1969])

Personnel: Julien Lourau: tenor and soprano saxophones, arrangements; Arnaud Roulin: analog synthesizers; Leo Jassef: piano and Prophet 5; Bojan Zulfikarpasic: guitar (10); Sylvain Daniel: bass, flugelhorn (10); Jim Hart: drums, percussion, vibes, marimba; Mathieu Debourdes: arrangements, trombone (10).

Released: August 20, 2021
A&R : Antoine Rajon
Recorded: Félix Rémy at Studio Pigalle, Paris, January 2021
Mastering: Frank Merritt at The Carvery, London
Cover artwork: Brüno

About The Artwork

Power of Soul – The Music of CTI features a striking cover that seemingly bears little, if any, connection to anything related to CTI. The iconic CTI designs of Sam Antupit and Bob Ciano, copied extensively elsewhere, are eschewed. So is typography: the disc’s artist and title are identified by a “hype sticker.” Most notably missing is anything even copying Pete Turner’s arresting photography, which defines the distinction of CTI as much as the music itself.

One can argue that Power of Soul’s designer, Brüno (a.k.a. Bruno Thielleux) – who is also behind other quirky Komos Jazz tribute discs (by other French jazz leaders) to Don Cherry, Randy Weston, Marion Brown and Henri Texier – has realized visually what Julian Lourau achieves musically. These eyes see the careful hands of a sorcerer pulling pearls from the (CTI) zeitgeist and crafting them in to new jewels. The sorcerer wears the pearls as though they’re their own.

A tribute that’s more sorcery and less slavish in every way: Bravo!

Power of Soul – The Music Of CTI – Artwork by Brüno

Vinyl, CD and Digitals files available via bandcamp.
Streaming: Spotify; qobuz; YouTube Music; Amazon et al.

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