Friday, March 11, 2011


Freddie Hubbard was, next to Miles Davis, the most dramatic and far-reaching brass player of the past 60 years. He died at age 70 in December 2008, leaving a legacy of some 100 recordings under his own name and with everyone from Wes Montgomery and Art Blakey to Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Oscar Peterson, Quincy Jones, Dexter Gordon, George Benson, Sarah Vaughan, Max Roach, Count Basie, Ornette Coleman and many others. Throughout the course of his luminous international career, Hubbard established a standard of pure sound that brass players aspire to today. Hubbard's explosive and lyrical virtuosity (first noted during a high school band performance in his hometown of Indianapolis) as well as his flow of brilliant, spontaneous ideas and determination to play loudest, hardest, fastest and most imaginatively, will never go out of style. Pinnacle comprises more than an hour of highest level performances by Hubbard on trumpet and flugelhorn, with pianist Billy Childs, bassist Larry Klein (better known now as Joni Mitchell's producer), saxophonists Hadley Caliman and David Schnitter, trombonist Phil Ranelin, and drummers Eddie Marshall and Sinclair Lott.

From the very start of Pinnacle, Live And Unreleased From Keystone Korner it's clear Hubbard and company came to Keystone Korner to play. "The Intrepid Fox," a memorable tune from Hubbard's 1970 hit album Red Clay, contains one of the trumpeter's signature solo strategies: He rises within a minute from intimate musings to sustained trills and an acrobatic upper register push, resolving it all in a post-climactic chorus replete with perfectly placed lip buzzes. "First Light," the title-track from Hubbard's 1971 album, is a swinging mid-tempo blues in which the trumpeter quickly shifts to double-time.

"One of Another Kind" was Hubbard's contribution to the repertoire of V.S.O.P., the mid '70s hard-bop quintet he co-led with Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Ron Carter and Tony Williams. "Happiness Is Now," which Hubbard introduced on his 1980 studio album Skagly, is one of his unusual tunes, and pairs languid melody with hip back-beat. "The Summer Knows," Michel Legrand's ballad for the soundtrack of the film Summer of '42, is graced with some of Hubbard's warmest, most relaxed feelings. It's followed by "Blues for Duane," which is inspired by Hubbard's son and portrays another dazzling, top octave trumpet solo.

Pinnacle concludes with Hubbard's only known recording of "Giant Steps," Coltrane's chord-racing composition, which has become a jazz standard, with its peculiar set of chord progressions and racing tempo. In eight choruses of variation stretching over four and a half minutes, Hubbard demonstrates complete mastery of the difficult line's fast-paced changes. Here and on "One of Another Kind" tenor saxophonist Caliman, who died in September 2010, solos with power to match Hubbard's own. Throughout all of Pinnacle, Hubbard enjoys solid support from his working ensemble, most especially grand- and electric-pianist Childs, who joined Hubbard's band shortly after his graduation from University of Southern California as a composition major. Childs has earned continued acclaim as an instrumentalist and music writer, receiving a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship in 2009. Drummers Eddie Marshall and Sinclair Lott share responsibilities for unfailing propulsive rhythms.

Though the world is poorer now that Freddie Hubbard is gone, it gets richer as previously unheard documentation of his art emerges for the public to savor. Pinnacle, Live and Unreleased: From Keystone Korner is an occasion for rejoicing in the thrills and beauty Freddie Hubbard could wring from his trumpet and flugelhorn. It is as the title suggests, music by a jazz giant in peak form.

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