Freddie Hubbard – First Light – CTI 6013 (1971) – Pure Pleasure Records (2017)

This vinyl recording is a wonderful addition to any jazz library.

Freddie Hubbard – First Light – CTI 6013 (1971)/Pure Pleasure Records (2017) 180-gram stereo vinyl, 33:32 ****1/2:

(Freddie Hubbard – trumpet, flugelhorn; Jack DeJohnette – drums; Ron Carter – bass; Richard Wyands – piano; George Benson – guitar; Airto Moreira – percussion; Phil Kraus – vibes; Wally Kane – flute; Hubert Laws – flute; George Marge – flute, clarinet Romeo Penque – flute, English horn, clarinet, oboe; Wally Kane – bassoon; Jane Taylor – bassoon; Ray Alonge – French horn; James Buffington – French horn; Margaret Ross – harp; Alfred Brown – viola; Emmanuel Vardi – viola; Charles McCracken – cello; George Ricci – cello; (David Nadien; Psul Gershman; Emmanuel Green; Harold Kohon; Joe Malin; Gene Orloff; Matthew Raimondi; Tosha Smaroff; Irving Spice) – violins; with arrangements by Don Sebesky)

As jazz emerged into the 70’s, things were changing rapidly. Miles Davis led a foray into electric instrumentation and West Coast Jazz was born. A sub-genre of cool jazz, players were evolving out of the bebop and hard bop molds into a calmer sound. At the heart of this movement was CTI Records. Artists like Stanley Turrentine, Wes Montgomery, Hubert Laws, and in particular trumpeter Freddie Hubbard were stalwarts on the CTI label. Their freewheeling improvisational stylings changed with the heavier arrangements. Hubbard had collaborated with hard core jazz icons like Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane and Art Blakey. He recorded several albums for Blue Note and Atlantic before arrived at CTI. His debut Red Clay and his follow up Straight Life were commercially and critically successful. Hubbard became the most celebrated artist at his label.

Straight Time (his 3rd release for CTI and 19th overall) was originally released on CTI in 1971. It is the epitome of the expanded West Coast sound and is regarded by many as the final entry in his CTI Trilogy. Hubbard fronts an all star band, including Jack DeJohnette (drums), George Benson (guitar), Ron Carter (bass), Richard Wyands (piano), Airto (percussion) and Hubert Laws (flute). There are additional reed players (practically an entire section) with strings (violins, harp, cello viola) featuring arrangements by Don Sebeskey, The expansive landscape of this ensemble is rendered in a dynamic, complex way. Side 1 opens with an original title track by Hubbard that kicks things off with an ethereal trumpet line shaded by electric piano accents. The track makes a funky turn with a groove-filled electric piano that combines with DeJohnette and Carter’s low-end mastery.This hypnotic pulse recreates a gossamer lift while Hubbard executes trademark horn runs. Unlike other solo-based jazz recordings, Hubbard pulls back some, complementing the lush orchestration. There are latin  inflections and the counter violin  approximate a cinematic resonance. Hubert Laws’ flute riffs are timely and increase the overall texture. George Benson delivers a harder-edged funk guitar solo. This eleven minute track is superb.

The next cut (“Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey”) is an unusual choice. Originally on Paul McCartney’s second solo effort Ram, it is distinctively pop-constructed. There aren’t many covers of solo McCartney (Interestingly enough, Haitian singer Exuma covered another Ram song, “Monkberry Moon Delight”), and this arrangement has swirling flutes against Hubbard’s lead in the winsome “Uncle Albert” part. The band embraces the jauntier “Admiral Halsey” in a jazzier fashion (with Richard Wyands’ deft touches) highlighted by a razor-sharp guitar solo (Benson) and a brilliantly nimble walking bass from Ron Carter. Consistent with cinematic sensibility, Side 2 opens with Henry Mancini’s “Moment To Moment” (used in the 1966 movie of the same name) but also previously recorded by the composer). The haunting opening (with oboe) is memorable. Hubbard demonstrates his acumen with complex balladry and a string crescendo illuminates the jam. Ron Carter shifts the song into bossa nova rhythm with his inimitable bass lines.

Arranger Sebesky’s accessible composition, “Yesterday’s Dreams’ benefits from Hubbard’s delicate, muted horn, orchestral swells and another cool bass line that injects moodiness. The finale is am ambitious cover of the Broadway favorite, “Lonely Town” (from On The Town). The images of Gene Kelly’s sailor character “moping” around New York in pursuit of his pin up girl has always been transcended by Leonard Bernstein’s urban, sophisticated composing. This version’s engaging intro with oboe, harp and clarinet is reminiscent of Manhattan Americana. An up tempo break features Hubbard and Carter at their finest with radiant electric piano (1971 again). The ensemble reverts back to the initial refrain with a big orchestral finish.

The re-mastering of First Light to 180-gram vinyl is flawless and exemplifies the resurgence of analog recording. Having the master tapes of legendary engineer, Rudy Van Gelder is integral.  All of the various instrumental layers are woven into a clean, organic mix. The individual play (especially on trumpet and guitar) is never overwhelmed by the denser orchestration. The clarity of the overall mix is evident on minor touches like a harp, drum cymbal or vibraphone. As usual, Pure Pleasure Records continues its dedication to superior products with a hi-gloss gatefold and quality inner sleeve. While critics were divided on the artistic merits of Hubbard in this venture, this release is a collector’s item!


Side 1: First Light; Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey

Side 2: Moment To Moment; Yesterday’s Dreams; Lonely Town

—Robbie Gerson

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