Saturday, January 23, 2010
Freddie HUBBARD - Red Clay 1970
Red Clay starts off like being woken from a bad dream. Freddie's trumpet blaring like a car alarm, Jon Henderson's sax setting off the rest of the cars down the block, and Lenny White's scattered drumming falling down like heavy rain. Then it all dies down and you're glad to be awake--it was a bad dream, after all.
You can say the same things about Freddie Hubbard that you can say about all the legendary jazz musicians of his time. He started out as a familiar face on many a revered jazz album (Out to Lunch, Speak No Evil), reinvented himself as he embraced more atonal structures on his own outings, and had a long, boring career of forgotten studio albums after the mid-70s. Whether Red Clay is his best is, of course, debatable and unknown to me at this point in time, but it certainly stands as a defining moment of his career and a bold reinvention of himself at the outset of a new decade.
The title track, after its disorienting prelude, transitions into a moody, relaxed song that progresses through Hubbard's restrained trumpet that leads into Herbie Hancock unbelievable Fender Rhodes solo. The way the trumpet and keyboard compliment each other and progress will be familiar with any pop fan, and it makes "Red Clay" a very accessible and memorable track for jazz and non-jazz fans alike. You rarely get such a great sense of space paired with memorable melodies in this genre. It might have been a great leap toward commercialization that had fans disowning Hubbard years later, but for the time being it lent itself to a bold, quality piece of music filled with the spirit and mood that defines great jazz.
"Delphia" leaves behind the one chord grooves of the previous track and offers a more lethargic tone and pace. The keyboard sound Hancock gets out of his Rhodes holds an especially dear place in anyone's heart that grew up on Simcity--that much cited reference amongst jazz fanatics (...) Henderson's flute and White's drumming that bridges the song's opposing sections help it give it a gentle heart that will soon explode in the wake of Red Clay's 2nd half.
OK, that's not completely true. "Suite Sioux" begins amicably enough until it explodes into a dirty mess of fusion. More than any other track on the album, it finds Hubbard and co. finding a happy medium between post-bop and r&b. In comparison to "The Intrepid Fox", it's relatively harmless. Ron Carter's bass opens up the track paving the way for Hubbard's raucous trumpet playing expands to madness but somehow manages to quiet down occasionally to highlight Hancock's uniformly excellent playing.
"Suite Sioux" and "The Intrepid Fox" are the sort of pedestrian, if not impeccably performed, jazz songs that keep non-jazz fans just that, but the opening two tracks of Red Clay deserve a listen from a wider audience than the one the it has been exposed to. I've never heard a jazz song coincide so well with DJ Shadow as "Red Clay", and "Delphia" is a film noir bed dream piss-soaked in ecstasy. Like most jazz of its year, Red Clay was trying to establish an identity for jazz after having lost one in the wake of Miles' experimentation. It won't put you to sleep, but its an awfully nice album to wake up to. Just let the storm settle first.
Before Freddie Hubbard signed with CTI Records in 1970, he was already considered one of the most brilliant jazz trumpeters in the world. RED CLAY, his debut album on the label, is an exceptional set of plugged-in hard bop fused with funk - and reportedly the album he considers his best. Joining him on five of the six cuts, is a crack quintet featuring longtime colleagues Joe Henderson and Herbie Hancock, on tenor saxophone and keyboards respectively. The final number, a previously unissued, extended live jam on the title tune, finds Hubbard fronting an all-star septet that includes such fellow CTI stars as George Benson and Stanley Turrentine.
This may be Freddie Hubbard's finest moment as a leader, in that it embodies and utilizes all of his strengths as a composer, soloist, and frontman. On Red Clay, Hubbard combines hard bop's glorious blues-out past with the soulful innovations of mainstream jazz in the 1960s, and reads them through the chunky groove innovations of 1970s jazz fusion. This session places the trumpeter in the company of giants such as tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson, pianist Herbie Hancock, bassist Ron Carter, and drummer Lenny White. Hubbard's five compositions all come from deep inside blues territory; these shaded notions are grafted onto funky hard bop melodies worthy of Horace Silver's finest tunes, and are layered inside the smoothed-over cadences of shimmering, steaming soul. The 12-minute-plus title track features a 44 modal opening and a spare electric piano solo woven through the twin horns of Hubbard and Henderson. It is a fine example of snaky groove music. Henderson even takes his solo outside a bit without ever moving out of the rhythmnatist's pocket. Delightful begins as a ballad with slow, clipped trumpet lines against a major key background, and opens onto a mid-tempo groover, then winds back into the dark, steamy heart of bluesy melodicism. The hands-down favorite here, though, is The Intrepid Fox, with its Miles-like opening of knotty changes and shifting modes, that are all rooted in bop's muscular architecture. It's White and Hancock who shift the track from underneath with large sevenths and triple-timed drums that land deeply inside the clamoring, ever-present riff. Where Hubbard and Henderson are playing against, as well as with one another, the rhythm section, lifted buoyantly by Carter's bridge-building bassline, carries the melody over until Hancock plays an uncharacteristically angular solo before splitting the groove in two and doubling back with a series of striking arpeggiatics. This is a classic, hands down. --- By Thom Jurek. AMG.
Ron Carter- Bass
Drums - Lenny White- Drums
Herbie Hancock- Piano
Joe Henderson- Sax
Freddie Hubbard- Trumpet
A1. Red Clay 12:12
A2. Delphia 7:23
B1. Suite Sioux 8:38
B2. The Intrepid Fox 10:45