Stanley Turrentine possessed one of the biggest and fattest soulful tenor sax sounds of all time. And 'Sugar' is his masterpiece. Anyone with even a passing interest in Turrentine or soul-jazz needs to look here.
After some twenty varying works over almost ten years for the established Blue Note label, ranging widely in quality but with a good number of excellent sessions, tenor saxophonist Stanley Turrentine then signed with the still young CTI. Formed by Verve producer-extraordinaire Creed Taylor, who brought with him highly-regarded Blue Note engineer Rudy Van Gelder, the label fast developed a strong reputation for sharp sound, production quality and most importantly giving an extra commercial boost to many jazz artists without having to resort to pandering or ‘selling-out’.
Turrentine joined the label in 1970, having made a respectable if not particularly huge impact with his former employers. A long-time yet still young veteran of the soul-jazz scene, he was quickly paired by Taylor with some of the finest contemporary players around, including the fast-rising George Benson on guitar, Freddie Hubbard on trumpet, Lonnie Liston Smith and Butch Cornell, on organ and electric piano respectively, Billy Kaye on drums and unsurprisingly Ron Carter on bass. Carter being of course almost the sole bass player of the CTI label. Together, armed with just three extended tracks, they seemingly effortlessly made Turrentines then best record.
‘Sugar’, the title track, is a grooving soul-blues number with a mellow yet irrestibly funky rhythm at its centre giving a nice springboard to Turrentine, Hubbard and Benson to turn up the heat and lay down some smouldering and blistering solos. It’s a perfect party number, was a suitably huge hit, and would become a firm Turrentine fan favourite, before eventually even becoming Turrentine’s most popular nickname.
Butch Cornells own ‘Sunshine Alley’ is a funkier number with a nice rhythm set by Smith’s organ. Faster paced than the opening cooker, it keeps the party feel going from the first piece and ups the groove by just the right amount. A surprising take on John Coltranes own ‘Impressions’ then wraps everything up with an emotionally uplifting and solid ending, and again highlights all the soloists strengths as performers.
It’s not a fusion session, although there are some electric and electronic instruments and other fusion elements here, and it isn’t jazz-funk either - ‘Sugar’ though is Turrentine’s own blended take on soul-jazz with plenty of both funk and groove. It’s a very listenable record and has many fans. While his Blue Note records can be good, and they frequently are, very few are as exceptional as the recording shown here, and there’s often a lack of unique distinction to his own voice. This though is an incredibly satisfying listen and is easily one of the great mans, and the decades, best.