If ever there were a record that both fit perfectly and stood outside the CTI Records' stable sound, it is Sugar by Stanley Turrentine. Recorded in 1970, only three tracks appear on the original album (on the reissue there's a bonus live version of the title track, which nearly outshines the original and is 50 percent longer). Turrentine, a veteran of the soul-jazz scene since the '50s, was accompanied by a who's who of groove players, including guitarist George Benson, Lonnie Liston Smith on electric piano, Freddie Hubbard on trumpet, bassist Ron Carter, organist Butch Cornell, and drummer Billy Kaye, among others. (The live version adds Airto, flutist Hubert Laws, drummer Billy Cobham, and organist Johnny Hammond.) The title track is a deep soul blues workout with a swinging backbeat and the rhythm section fluidly streaming through fours and eights as Benson, Hubbard, and Turrentine begin slowly and crank up the heat, making the pace and stride of the cut simmer then pop - especially in Hubbard's solo. This is truly midnight blue, and the party's at the point of getting really serious or about to break up. By the time Benson picks up his break, full of slick, shiny, warm arpeggios, the seams are bursting and couples are edging into corners. Butch Cornell's "Sunshine Alley" is a solid, funky groover, paced by organ and double fours by Kaye. Turrentine and Hubbard stride into the melody and keep the vamp in the pocket, riding out past the blues line into a tag that just revs the thing up even further. But the big surprise is in the final track, one of the most solidly swinging, from-the-gut emotional rides of John Coltrane's "Impressions" ever taken. Turrentine is deep inside his horn, ringing out in legato with everything he has - and it is considerable. Ron Carter's bass playing flows through the modal interludes, creating a basis for some beautifully intervallic invention by Benson and Smith by building a series of harmonic bridges through the mode to solos. It's hard to believe this is Turrentine, yet is could be no one else. If jazz fans are interested in Turrentine beyond the Blue Note period - and they should be - this is a heck of a place to listen for satisfaction.
- Thom Jurek (All Music Guide)
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During the 1960's, tenor saxophonist Stanley Turrentine had amassed a solid if unspectacular track record as both leader and sideman for the redoubtable Blue Note label. The Pittsburgh native might be likened to a ballplayer who for a decade hits .285 without making the all-star team, or to an actor who's usually third-billed but occasionally gets to play the lead (Brian Donlevy comes to mind), always to favorable notices.
While never an innovator, Turrentine (1934-2000) was surely one of Blue Note's key players in the field of "soul jazz," the strongly blues-based, gospel-influenced branch of hard bop, which itself was a simplified take on the vertiginously complex bebop form. Fans and critics alike responded warmly to his juicy (but never overripe) tone, bluesy economy, unstinting sense of, swing and soulful ballads. Most important, there was the unaffected way in which his solos "told a story" without talking down to the listener.
Turrentine, then, was a worthy choice, but by no means an obvious one, to be signed by Creed Taylor when in 1970 the successful entrepreneur (he'd founded Impulse! Records a decade earlier) and jazz producer (most notably of Stan Getz's bossa nova albums for Verve and Wes Montgomery's jazz-pop crossovers for Verve and A&M) launched his own CTI label. Yet Sugar-whose shortest track was 10:09 long - was a surprise hit album. The Turrentine-composed title theme, a minor-key 16-bar blues with modal implications, has become something of a jazz standard.
Lengthy selections notwithstanding, Sugar's three studio cuts constitute a sleeker, more radio-friendly version of a typical Blue Note session from the early-to-mid 1960s. Sustained grooves, tuneful solos, and the use of the then-fashionable electric piano (an important element of the CTI style) are of the essence. Three members of both of the octets heard herein - Turrentine, trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, bassist Ron Carter - were mainstays of Blue Note in the "60s, while guitarist George Benson had occasionally turned up as a sideman. Plus, the masterful Rudy Van Gelder, with whom Taylor created the designer sound that would come to be associated with CTI, had engineered numerous classic Blue Note '50s and '60s dates.
CTI, like Blue Note, had a "look" as well. As he had at Impulse! and A&M, Taylor favored gatefold sleeves for his LPs. CTI's covers featured color compositions of gallery quality by some of America's leading photographers. The pictures were often slightly mysterious and/or slyly sexy. Upon scanning the IP bins, one could immediately separate CTI product from the rest of the pack.
But even during the peak of the psychedelic era, most people didn't purchase a disc to groove on its cover graphics, . however artistic. Once one got past Sugar's erotic cover, the set's seductive grooves, both straight-ahead or, as on organist Butch Cornell's "Sunshine Alley," post-boogaloo, were deep and adroitly dug. And its solos, particularly the leader's exultant tenor and Benson's flowing guitar, were repeatedly rewarding.
Turrentine's segment on "Impressions" is most instructive. John Coltrane's oft-covered modal blues is in this case taken at finger-snapping medium tempo, rather than at the great man's gallop, with Carter's bass, Billy Kaye's drums and Richard Landrum's congas doing the New York Latin-tinged bounce. Turrentine strings together phrase after piquantly bluesy phrase, resulting not only in a whole that exceeds the sum of its parts but a wholly relaxed, non-virtuosic take on a tune that's synonymous with relentless - and in lesser hands, empty - virtuosity. It's this kind of unpretentiousness that makes "Impressions," and all of Sugar, as sweet and tasty as homemade strawberry short cake.