Freddie Hubbard – Straight Life [TrackList follows] – CTI / Pure Pleasure CTI 6007 (1970/2014) audiophile stereo vinyl 36:24 ****:
(Freddie Hubbard – trumpet, Flugelhorn; Joe Henderson – tenor saxophone; Herbie Hancock – piano; George Benson – guitar; Ron Carter – bass; Jack DeJohnette – drums; Richard “Pablo” Landrum – percussion; Weldon Irvine – tambourine)
With the success of Red Clay, Freddie Hubbard joined the ranks of jazz artists embracing fusion. Certainly, traditional players like Les McCann, Herbie Hancock, Charles Lloyd and of course Miles Davis (an early devotee of the genre) adopted this musical hybrid and transformed the modern jazz context. Hubbard (like other in his generation) was shaped by bebop, hard bop and post-bop movements. CTI Records (especially in the early seventies) was a haven for jazz artists seeking to incorporate, soul, rock and experimental music into jazz. Conversely many rock acts embraced fusion as a means of incorporating jazz into their music.
Pure Pleasure has re-mastered Freddie Hubbard’s 1970 album, Straight Life to audiophile vinyl. For this project, Hubbard assembled an all-star group of players. Tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson, keyboardist Herbie Hancock, guitarist George Benson, bassist Ron Carter and the tandem of Jack DeJohnette, drums, and Richard “Pablo” Landrum live up to the expectations. Side A consists of one track: “Straight Life”. For seventeen-and-a half minutes the ensemble roars through the Latin-tinged jam. After an extemporary opening, trumpet and sax unite for a brief moment. Near the 2:00 mark, Joe Henderson unleashes a lively tenor solo, and pushes the band. The rhythm section (DeJohnette, Landrum, Carter and Hancock) is relentless. Hubbard enters around the four-minute mark, with piercing riffs before bringing it down to a fluid simmer. Then Hancock takes off on electric piano with percussive undertones. The modern jazz, fusion funk is underway. Benson contributes a potent, fluid solo, meshing perfectly with the pulse of the jam. Again the rhythm section is flawless, cooking on its own until Hubbard and Henderson join at the end.
Side 2 has two completely different approaches to jazz. “Mr. Clean” has a steady, muscular funk groove. Carter and DeJohnette are stellar (and orchestrate some nimble tempo shifts) in their timekeeping. Hubbard embraces the new aesthetic with a “nasty” trumpet solo. Henderson also adds some tough licks, but still keeps a bop sensibility. And then Herbie Hancock demonstrates his compelling artistry on electric piano in an extended solo. The hooks and grooves are dynamic. Both Hubbard and Henderson add shading behind Hancock’s solo (as he does on their solos). Benson unleashes a gutsy, soulful run. His chemistry with the band is excellent and he elevates the ensemble. The finale is a definite change of pace. Hubbard (on flugelhorn) and Benson combine for a lyrical, melodic duet (although Carter’s bass is subtly present) on “Here’s That Rainy Day”. This Jimmy Van Heusen/Johnny Burke classic (from the Broadway show, Carnival In Flanders) has been performed by a wide variety of singers, including Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Billy Eckstein, Sarah Vaughan and Tony Bennett. It has become a standard for jazz musicians with memorable covers from Dave Brubeck, Bill Evans, Chet Baker, Art Tatum, Oscar Peterson and Wes Montgomery. Hubbard’s caresses the melody in wistful, melodic tones. Benson’s chord-driven accompaniment is fluid. The ending by Hubbard simply glows with warmth.
This audiophile vinyl re-mastering is excellent. Despite the modern instrumentation, the mix is stripped down (not unlike Rudy Van Gelder’s work). Both the trumpet and Flugelhorn have individual tonality with respective sharpness and mellowness. Carter’s subtle bass work is subdued, but not lost. Benson’s guitar has its customary silken vibe but has occasional electric crispness. The high- gloss packaging and lined record sleeves are top notch. At 36 plus minutes, it would have been nice to get another track. [But it wasn’t on the original CTI vinyl – so…Ed.]
Side A: Straight Life
Side B: Mr. Clean; Here’s That Rainy Day