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"Remember the Titans"
San Diego Union Tribune - Dec. 29, 2005

Formed as a homage to a landmark album, the 'Project' honors jazz giants.

Luther Hughes was listening to "The Cannonball Adderley Quintet in Chicago," one of his favorite albums, when a jolt of inspiration hit him. A hard-swinging bassist who spent years touring and recording with bluesdrenched pianist Gene Harris, Hughes realized that the album's sturdy arrangements could offer fertile ground for exploration. The classic live EmArcy session from 1958, which has been issued numerous times under numerous names, is the only time that altoist Adderley and tenor sax titan John Coltrane recorded together outside trumpeter Miles Davis' sextet. Rather than attempting the impossible, re-creating the album, Hughes assembled a quintet of friends to see where the music could take them.

"Everyone was into it," said Hughes, who brings the Cannonball-Coltrane Project to San Diego on Wednesday as part of the Jazz in the Park series. "We got together and played that night, and it was just magical. I felt like Shirley MacLaine, and we were channeling the spirits of Cannonball and Trane."

Hughes was feeling so confident about the band - which features pianist Ed Czach, drummer Paul Kreibich, tenor saxophonist Glenn Cashman and altoist Bruce Babad - that he took them into the studio before the group's first gig. The album, "Luther Hughes and the Cannonball-Coltrane Project" is on his new label, Primrose Lane Music.

The band's repertoire includes several original pieces inspired by Adderley and Coltrane, such as Cashman's alternately playful and introspective "The Old Ball and Trane." Czach contributed a 3/4 setting of Adderley's theme song, "Unit Seven" by bassist Sam Jones, and Hughes has added an arrangement of "Green Dolphin Street," a tune that was a regular part of the Miles Davis Sextet repertoire.

"This is stuff we'll do at the San Diego concert," Hughes said. "With all the material Cannonball and Trane did collectively, the possibilities are limitless."

Hughes has been a mainstay on the Southern California jazz scene since the early 1970s, when he moved from his native Cincinnati to join Gene Harris' band in Los Angeles. He landed a high-profile gig with the Louie Bellson Big Band one night when he was subbing for Ray Brown. At the time, Bellson's group bristled with jazz luminaries such as guitarist Joe Pass, saxophonist Marshall Royal, and trumpeters Harry "Sweets" Edison, Blue Mitchell and Cat Anderson.

"I look back and, my God, it was a band you would dream of playing with in heaven," Hughes said. "That's how I got established in town. Other guys would see me play with Louie, and I started getting calls."

The Bellson band may have been otherworldly, but Hughes really took jazz into the outer reaches with an unlikely gig on "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine." Hughes was performing with Gene Harris at the Catalina Bar & Grill in Hollywood when he spotted Nana Visitor and Alexander Siddig, who played the "Deep Space" characters Kira Nerys and Dr. Julian Bashir.

The actors knew Hughes' work from his recordings with Harris, and they all formed a mutual admiration society during a set break. Visitor mentioned she would soon be singing the song "Fever" in an episode set in circa-1962 jazz club created on the virtual reality "holodeck." Would he be interested in playing bass in the holographic band?

A self-described Trekkie, Hughes was thrilled at the opportunity. "James Darren was playing a lounge singer named Vic Fontaine, and I got Paul Kreibich on with us too," Hughes said. "We wound up doing seven episodes including the series finale. That was a dream come true."