Freddie Hubbard Straight Life Review

BBC Review

Funky moves from CTI, with trumpeter Hubbard at the top of his game with support from...

Ian R Watson 2002

Throughout his distinguished career, trumpet (and sometimes flugelhorn) player Hubbard has worn many musical hats. He became best known as a fiery and energetic hard bopper with a string of classic Blue Note albums from the 60s to his name, as well as being a graduate of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers. Once the word was out that there was a new kid on the block, his muscular style found its way onto an amazing amount of albums, from Oliver Nelson (Blues And The Abstract Truth) and Herbie Hancock (Maiden Voyage) to John Coltrane (Ascension) and Ornette Coleman (Free Jazz).

Despite an association with Eric Dolphy the avant-garde was never really Freddie's bag. By the time of this release (1970) his solo material was moving more towards the soul Jazz end of the spectrum. Despite sidemen usually associated with Miles Davis; (drummer Jack DeJohnette, pianist Herbie Hancock and first call bassist Ron Carter) and that was a ghost that hovered over Hubbard for a long time, this is as far away in approach and sound to the Prince of Darkness that you could get.

After a free trumpet/drums intro "Straight Life" settles into powerful groove that hardly lets up through its 17 minutes, (think supercharged afro-beat). Where Miles used a less is more aesthetic, Hubbard is exuberant, fearless and clearly at the top of his game.

Tenor player Joe Henderson also plays around the cusp between freedom and melodic ingenuity, while Hancock and guitarist George Benson keep the whole thing cooking and refuse to let the groove flag in any way.

"Mr Clean" lowers the temperature a notch but still provides both a template for acid Jazz (those pop bands too lazy to find their own voices) and enough source material for sample hungry DJs. This was a time before 'fusion' became a dirty word and Hubbard himself descended into a string of commercially motivated but artistically redundant releases. Here it's a joy to hear him soar over Hancock's sparkling electric piano.

When he brings out the flugelhorn on "Here's that Rainy Day" Hubbard shows off his romantic side. Benson and bassist Ron Carter provide a perfect backdrop for Freddies lovelorn ruminations, letting the listener down gently after all the earlier excitement. Top notch.

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