Freddie Hubbard – Without a Song: Live in Europe 1969 [Blue Note, 2009]

Freddie Hubbard - Without a song live in EuropeTrumpeter Freddie Hubbard’s passing in December 2008 created the expected appetite for previously unissued material. This generous set is a valuable exhumation of live material, recorded in 1969. Actually, Hubbard had already approved its release prior to his departure, and was very excited about this archival rediscovery. The main bulk is drawn from concerts in London and Bristol, but the last two tracks were laid down somewhere in Germany.

Hubbard’s co-stars form an attractive line-up, with pianist Roland Hanna, bassman Ron Carter and drummer Louis Hayes allowing ample leeway for their leader’s frequent soloing. Hubbard’s signature sizzling-griddle sound is showcased straight away, as the opening title tune sends him straight into a lengthy expostulation, the Hayes cymbals providing a notable splash-surround. Hubbard’s speckled pepperings ignite a gentle fire. He’s sometimes aggressive, but not at the expense of emotional nuance. Suddenly, everyone but Hanna bows out, and his pointillistic jabbing forms a striking interlude in this 11-minute piece. The mood is bright, open and joyful, establishing the prevalent tone of these recordings. The Things We Did Last Summer turns momentarily to a melancholy shade, and towards its conclusion Hubbard is drawing out long, twisted slurs. He returns to positivity with A Night In Tunisia, skating around its theme, then breaking into a crackling solo, as his bandmates respond with a matching energy, culminating in the cascading thunder of a drum solo.

Only one track (Body & Soul) has appeared before, with the bulk of material receiving its first issue. Even though this ballad slides by at a very measured pace, Hubbard contrasts with the rhythm section, setting off sharply contained firecrackers into their tranquil zone. Space Track comes as a complete surprise, involving a freer suspension, a manic abstraction. Let’s not forget that Hubbard appeared on Ornette Coleman’s Free Jazz and John Coltrane’s Ascension, two of free-form jazz’s classic albums. The closing Hub-Tones has a theme that could be dubbed Ornettian, but it swiftly charges into brittle post-bop flash, with everything happening very fast in this compacted number, containing barely over four minutes of highly-charged hyperactivity.

Martin Longley

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Licence. Originally published on BBC Music.

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