Phil Upchurch, Tennyson Stephens - Upchurch/Tennyson (1975/2013) High-Fidelity DSF Stereo DSD64/2.82MHz
Artist: Phil Upchurch, Tennyson Stephens
Genre: Jazz, Fusion, Jazz Blues, Jazz Pop, Soul Jazz, Jazz Funk
Label: © Kudu/CTI Records, a division of Creed Taylor, Inc. | King Record Co., Ltd.
Release Date: 1975/2013
Quality: DSF Stereo DSD64/2.82MHz
Recorded: September 1974 and January-March 1975 at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey
1975 was a hell of a year for Creed Taylor's Kudu Records. Not only was the mighty, mighty Feels So Good album by Grover Washington, Jr. released, but so was saxophonist Hank Crawford's Don't You Worry 'Bout a Thing. It was one of two recordings issued by Crawford for the label in that calendar year. But perhaps the most deeply satisfying and out of character album from that year was the absolute soul-jazz masterpiece Upchurch/Tennyson by Chicago guitar god Phil Upchurch and pianist/vocalist Tennyson Stephens. Where else can you find tracks by Bob James, Charles Stepney, Stevie Wonder, Ralph MacDonald, and Franz Schubert on the same album played by a cast of musicians that includes Steve Gadd, David Sanborn, Hubert Laws, James, Upchruch, Stephens, and a slew of others. While the album kicks off soulfully with MacDonald's mellow groover "You Got Style," with Stephens hitting all the low notes correctly and with smooth verve throughout, the next tune is the one that set the mark for acts like Enigma, Delerium, Adiemus, and others: James' setting of Schubert's "Ave Maria" to a slow funky backbeat with a chorus of female voices all colored by guitar and Fender Rhodes. The read of Wonder's "Tell Me Something Good" is stunning in a different way than Chaka Khan's, with Upchurch bending the hell out of his single-string notes, and James' "South Side Morning" is one of the most beautifully composed -- as well as executed -- tunes he's ever conceived. Throughout is the warmth and tenderness of Stephens' singing and his lilting pianism, and Upchurch's always in the pocket, without any flashy guitar playing, making this a late-night and early-morning album to live by. This is one of those soul-jazz records that is heavier on soul and is all the better for it. --AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek
Of the recent crop of CTI Master Series reissues this is certainly the one with the strongest leanings towards the more popular forms of music. This does not in any way lower the standard of the performances on this disc. However, it does make it less interesting to my ears. The overall effect is much smoother than the other discs I have had to review in this batch. The vocals are significantly further forward in the mix and there is far less freedom both in style and in terms of improvisation.
The musicians here are all from the top drawer and many can be heard on the other discs in this series. There are some purely instrumental selections and the ones which impressed me most feature the Hank Crawford/King Curtis saxophone styling of the young David Sanborn. His playing here is probably far more "earthy" than in some of his later, more pop inspired offerings. His presence alone is quite possibly worth the low price of this issue.
As one would expect from the personnel the other real plus lies in the guitarists. They are all at the top of their individual games and contribute on a high level. Tennyson Stephens has a strong voice as can be heard on titles such as "In Common". I am not sure about the version of "Ave Maria" it is perhaps a little too saccharine, but "Tell Me Something Good " by Stevie Wonder is outstanding. I would buy the other discs in this series first but this one is very pleasant easy listening. --Dick Stafford, MusicWeb International
1 You Got Style 2:39
2 Ave Maria 4:42
3 In Common 3:57
4 Tell Me Something Good 6:03
5 Don't I Know You 3:05
6 South Side Morning 3:07
7 Evil 3:51
8 Black Gold 3:35
9 I Wanted It Too 2:45
Alto Saxophone – David Sanborn
Arranger, Piano, Synthesizer [Arp], Conductor – Bob James
Backing Vocals – Frank Floyd, Janice Pendarvis, Lani Groves, Zachary Sanders
Bass – Doug Bascomb
Congas, Percussion – Ralph MacDonald
Drums – Andrew Smith, Steve Gadd
Flute – Hubert Laws
Guitar, Bass – Eric Gale, Phil Upchurch
Piano, Vocals – Tennyson Stephens
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