To be honest, I’m not a huge fan of Freddie Hubbard. He’s a remarkable player and a brilliant technician, but I have found his records to be a little lacking somehow. But since he played on seminal recordings by a couple of my all-time faves in the jazz world – Ornette Coleman’s Free Jazz and John Coltrane’s Ascension – I persevered with him. Didn’t help his case with me that he dismissed these albums I love as chaotic free-for-alls rather than the remarkable statements they were and are. But all it took was a listen to this album, recorded in January 1970, to turn me around on the man – or at least on this record.
First off, he’s surrounded by a great band and that helps things considerably. With two of Miles Davis’ 1960’s sidemen, Herbie Hancock (on electric piano and organ) and Ron Carter (on bass), backing him Hubbard’s music is sure to groove in the fashion of such then-contemporary late 60’s Miles albums as Miles in the Sky and Filles de Kilimanjaro, all lengthy workouts that take their time to develop, sometimes playing it laid back and cool, and other times erupting with the fire Hubbard commands so readily. Nice too that drummer Lenny White, another Davis alum fresh off the previous summer’s sessions for the not-yet released Bitches Brew album, knows his way around the kinds of contemporary rhythms that Hubbard was seeking here. And also quite nice that Hubbard has tapped the chameleonic tenor sax player Joe Henderson as his front line partner, given that Henderson could fit into any surroundings from straight ahead swing to some pretty “out” jazz.
But it’s all grounded by Hubbard himself, who has found a framework for his spectacular playing and also written a batch of tunes that showcase him and his band to their best. The first half is very much in the mode of the times, ushering in the 1970’s with the title cut’s relaxed grooving and “Delphia,” a waltz-time ballad that develops into something more mid-tempo. In both of these cuts, it’s odd how Herbie Hancock’s keyboards quietly comp their way into the forefront of the sound, even while the trumpet and saxophone takes flights of fancy over the top of the rhythms. The second half is something more akin to the hard bop that Hubbard is most associated with. “Suite Sioux” is a fast burner, with tangly solos from both Hubbard and the consummate sideman Henderson over the lightning rhythms, while “The Intrepid Fox” uses tricky changes to close out the regular album. Closing out this CD though are a pair of bonus cuts – a fine alternate take of the title cut and a take on John Lennon’s “Cold Turkey” that starts out as raw and off-puttingly harrowing as the original, but settles into a groove more in the style of the rest of the record.
I’ll admit it – Hubbard rubbed me the wrong way at first and I still cringe at his comments about great records he participated in that he failed to see the worth of, but if I had gone in blind on the evidence of this record, it never would’ve taken me as long to learn what his strengths are.
- Patrick Brown