december 22, 2015

Hubert Laws - Romeo & Juliet (1976)

Hubert Laws (born November 10, 1939) is an American flutist and saxophonist with a career spanning over 40 years in jazz, classical, and other music genres.

After Eric Dolphy and alongside Herbie Mann, Laws is probably the most recognized and respected jazz flutist. Laws is one of the few classical artists who has also mastered jazz, pop, and rhythm-and-blues genres, moving effortlessly from one repertory to another.

Originally a classical instrument, the flute made its way into jazz in a rather unusual way. In the early days of jazz, it was seldom used. It did not make it to the front row of lead instruments, like the trumpet and the saxophone, for a very simple reason: its comparatively low volume. In the messy and noisy ensembles of the twenties and thirties, a subtle and intimate flute fill stood no chance against the energetic, sweaty and furious leads of Armstrong’s trumpet.
As a consequence, jazz flute did not emerge as a lead instrument until the height of the Bebop era, in the early 1950’s. At this time, jazz musicians were craving for new sounds and musical horizons and, as the use of on-stage microphones became more widespread, the flute began gaining credit as a subtle and delicate alternative to the stronger sound of the trumpet.

In the second half of the fifties, jazz flute was inevitably associated with West Coast virtuosos Buddy Colette (who played with the Buddy Rich Big Band) and Bud Shank, for their audacious and very technical style of playing.

But back then, the flute was not yet ready for the spotlight; it was still widely seen as the saxophonists’ side instrument. It is only thanks to musical masterminds such as Hubert Laws, Yusef Lateef, Rahsaan Roland Kirk or Herbie Mann, that the flute really gained popularity. These genius multi-instrumentalists redefined the place of flute in jazz music throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s, building lifelong careers powered by relentless inspiration and desire for experimentation.

The least we can say about Romeo & Juliet, released in 1976 through Columbia Records is that it is a very ambitious record; ambitious in its harmonies and arrangements.
Inviting over 30 studio musicians, including star drummer Steve Gadd on “Undecided”, Hubert Laws managed to recreate the feel of a full-scale orchestra. Sixteen names in the string section, five brass musicians, five different choir voices… The arrangements are rich and complex, yet never invasive. On “What Are We Gonna Do”, the strings are mellow and soft; they come in and out of the mix like waves on the shore, setting the perfect mood for a super-catchy flute theme. On “Undecided”, as things get groovier, the brasses punctuate the melody in a superb manner, pairing with the drums in an almost Brownesque fashion.
Harmonically, Romeo & Juliet is indeed a very intricate and subtle piece of art. Every solo, every melody seems to flow through scales and modes with a natural ease, revealing Laws’ deep knowledge of harmony gained through years of classical practice. As a matter of fact, two tracks on the album are classical works arranged by Laws; “Romeo & Juliet” is a jazz-funk adaptation of the “love theme” in Tchaikovsky’s Symphony and “Forlane” is an intimate and amazingly beautiful guitar-flute version of Ravel’s piece from “le Tombeau de Couperin”. This is what makes this album so special; never failing to deliver grooves and body-shaking bass lines, Laws pushes the harmonic research to a yet unknown level of sophistication in funk.
Combining groove with harmonic excellence, Romeo & Juliet has a special place among the albums that forged the jazz flute repertoire. Its kitschy accents and overly enjoyable smooth melodies make it the perfect record for a laid-back summer afternoon, and its groovier tracks have serious dance potential. It is safe to say that Romeo & Juliet is one of these inspiring and incredibly well-thought-out pieces of art that will ravish both your body and soul.

Side A
A1.  Undecided  (6:07)  
A2.  Tryin' To Get The Feeling Again  (8:07)  
A3.  Forlane  (4:11) 

Side B
B1.  Romeo & Juliet  (7:41)  
B2.  What Are We Gonna Do?  (5:309  
B3.  Guatemala Connection  (5:43)
Hubert Laws - Flute
Bob James - Fender Rhodes, Clavinet, Keyboards
Eric Gale, Richie Resnicoff, Barry Finnerty, Steve Khan - Guitar
Gary King - Bass
Andy Newmark, Steve Gadd - Drums
Ralph MacDonald - Percussion
Mark Gray - Clavinet, Keyboards
Alan Rubin, Randy Brecker, Jon Faddis, Marvin Stamm, Bernie Glow - Trumpet, Flugelhorn
Allen Ralph, David Taylor, Wayne Andre - Trombone
George Marge, David Sanborn, Howard Johnson, Phil Bodner, Jerry Dodgion, Harvey Estrin - Woodwinds
David Nadien - Concertmaster
Alan Schulman, Alfred Brown, Barry Sinclair, Charles McCracken, Emanuel Green, Emanuel Vardi, Guy Lumia, Harold Kohon, Harry Cykman, Harry Lookofsky, Matthew Raimondi, Max Ellen, Max Pollikoff, Paul Gershman, Seymour Barab - Strings
Denise Wigfall, Kenneth Coles, Robin Wilson, Shirley Thompson, Stanley Stroman - Vocals

Produced, Arranged and Conducted by Bob James
Co-Produced and Engineered by Bob Clearmountain
Engineered by Joe Jorgensen
Vocal Arrangements by Stanley Stroman

Genre: Jazz
Label: Columbia Records
Length: 37:33
Catalog# 34330
(P) 1976

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