Freddie Hubbard - trumpet, flugelhorn; Junior Cook - tenor sax; George Cables - Fender Rhodes electric piano; Reggie Workman - bass; Jack DeJohnette - drums
In 1974, trumpeter Freddie Hubbard was at the peak of his powers and was still basking in the glory of a 1972 Grammy win for his album, First Light, which featured pianist Herbie Hancock, guitarist George Benson, bassist Ron Carter and drummer Jack DeJohnette. Hubbard's special edition band for this Carnegie Hall performance included tenor saxophonist Junior Cook along with pianist George Cables, bassist Reggie Workman and all-world drummer Jack DeJohnette.
They open with a bold rendition of "First Light," title track of Hubbard's acclaimed CTI album. Hubbard's playing is full of swagger, speed and high-note abandon here. At this moment in the trumpeter's ascendancy, no one could touch him technically. His audacious solos during this period, like this incendiary one on "First Light," had fellow trumpeters and students of the instrument standing in awe. No one since Louis Armstrong in his heyday, during his Hot Five and Hot Seven periods, blew with such staggering facility, sheer intensity and imagination as Hubbard did then. (Sadly, by the early '90s, a serious lip injury from blowing so forcefully all his life would threaten to end his career.) Following Hubbard's torrid solo, tenor saxophonist Cook begins his own solo in a more relaxed dynamic, taking his time before gradually building to an ecstatic crescendo, full of forceful, cathartic blowing in the altissimo range (a far cry from his more soulful hard bop excursions with Horace Silver during the late '50s and early '60s). Cook's intense solo here is spurred on by DeJohnette's whirlwind polyrhythmic approach to the kit. Cables' Fender Rhodes electric piano solo, imbued with inventive wah-wah and experimental Ring Modulator effects, is unfortunately sabotaged by a poor mix, though listeners can savor DeJohnette's creative choices on the kit behind him.
Hubbard next switches to the more mellow-toned flugelhorn and delivers a memorable reading of the poignant Jimmy Van Heusen-Johnny Burke ballad, "Here's That Rainy Day." He opens with a stunning cadenza and as the piece slowly progresses, underscored by Workman's spacious bass lines and DeJohnette's sensitive, interactive brushwork, Hubbard's note choices become achingly lyrical, interspersed with bravura double-time flurries on his horn that would make any trumpeter sit up and take notice. Cables' solo is more present in the mix here. And once again, the listener can luxuriate in DeJohnette's relaxed approach with sticks at this slower tempo. When Hubbard returns, his approach is lovely and lyrical, with a nod to "Misty" along the way. His lengthy closing cadenza is a staggering showcase of his unparalleled virtuosity.
Hubbard and his all-star crew close out their Carnegie Hall set with a blistering rendition of his avant-gardish "Space Track," which unleashes the remarkable talents of tenorist Cook and drummer DeJohnette. The quintet reaches some rather lofty peaks on this raucous, extended jam that echoes the heightened energy of latter day John Coltrane. Drummers will want to take note of DeJohnette's remarkable, unaccompanied solo in the midst of this free jazz fray. Workman also offers some virtuosic bowing during his own unaccompanied solo on this dynamic set-closer. Having participated in both Ornette Coleman's groundbreaking Free Jazz session from 1961 and John Coltrane's Ascension from 1965, Hubbard was well acquainted with the avant-garde, And though his background as a Jazz Messenger and a classic hard bop recording artist for Blue Note through the 1960s would suggest otherwise, Freddie takes it all the way out to conclude his dynamic performance at the 1974 Newport Jazz Festival.
Born on April 7, 1938 in Indianapolis, Indiana, Hubbard worked locally as a teenager with brothers Wes and Monk Montgomery. In 1958, at the age of 20, he moved to New York and immersed himself on the Big Apple jazz scene, gigging with the likes of Philly Joe Jones, Sonny Rollins, Slide Hampton, Eric Dolphy, J. J. Johnson, and Quincy Jones. He made his first record as a leader, Open Sesame, in June, 1960 and in December of that year appeared on Ornette Coleman's groundbreaking Free Jazz. This led to a flood of activity, both as a sideman and as a leader. In 1961, Hubbard played on John Coltrane's Africa/Brass and Olé Coltrane sessions and also released his third and fourth recordings as a leader on Blue Note, Hub Cap and Ready for Freddie. Toward the end of 1961, he replaced trumpeter Lee Morgan in Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers and played on the group's classic Mosaic that year. Hubbard subsequently played on several Blakey recordings during his tenure with the Jazz Messengers, including Caravan, Ugetsu and Free For All.
Following his string of commercial successes through the 1970s with Creed Taylor's CTI label (including 1970's Red Clay and 1971's Grammy Award-winning First Light), he joined the VSOP Quintet to play straight ahead jazz alongside Herbie Hancock, Tony Williams, Ron Carter and Wayne Shorter, members of the mid-sixties Miles Davis Quintet. They released four live albums documenting their indelible chemistry. Hubbard led his own hard bop flavored groups through the '80s, then suffered a career setback in 1992 when he suffered a serious lip injury (his upper lip ruptured and developed an infection which compromised his sterling chops). He made a comeback in 2001 with New Colors, backed by the New Jazz Composers Octet and in 2006 received a Jazz Masters Award from the National Endowment for the Arts. He was once again paired with the New Jazz Composers Octet on 2008's On the Real Side and died on December 29 of that year (at age 70) from complications from a heart attack.
Hubbard's sad decline toward the end of his career was well documented. As he said in the liner notes to On the Real Side: "It's really something when you lose your chops like that. You feel like a motherless child." But at the peak of his powers, as he was on this July 5th night at the 1969 Newport Jazz Festival, no trumpeter on the planet played longer, higher and faster than the great Freddie Hubbard. (Milkowski)