Red Clay Freddie Hubbard Analysis Essay

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Freddie Hubbard: Red Clay

By DAVID RICKERT

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Like Stanley Turrentine, Freddie Hubbard's best work was always in the service of others until he signed with Creed Taylor's CTI label. He then released a trio of albums that represents his crowning achievement as a leader. Red Clay finds him in the company of Herbie Hancock, who played a large part in defining jazz fusion, as well as heavyweights like Ron Carter, Joe Henderson, and Lenny White. The title track kicks off the record with a funky groove that is much more memorable than any such trick attempted on Blue Note releases from the previous decade; the remaining tracks are fairly adventurous explorations of a variety of interesting themes. Hancock, whose electric piano is one of the guilty pleasures of the area, carries the day with funky vamping and tasteful soloing. But Hubbard is no slouch either, contributing some of his most memorable solos over the jazzy grooves. Henderson has smoothed out his previous sound, eliminating the stuttering and wailing that defined his style in the sixties. Simply put, Red Clay is one of the relatively few jazz masterpieces from the seventies.

Track Listing: Red Clay; Delphia; Suite Sioux; The Intrepid Fox; Cold Turkey; Red Clay (live).

Personnel: Ron Carter - Bass; Herbie Hancock - Piano; Joe Henderson - Saxophone; Lenny White - Drums; Freddie Hubbard - Trumpet.

Title: Red Clay | Year Released: 2002 | Record Label: CTI Records

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Freddie Hubbard CD/LP/Track Review David Rickert CTI Records United States Red Clay

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By the start of the next decade he had largely abandoned his more commercial approach and returned to his jazz roots. But his career came to a virtual halt in 1992 when he damaged his lip, and although he resumed performing and recording after an extended hiatus, he was never again as powerful a player as he had been in his prime.

Frederick Dewayne Hubbard was born on April 7, 1938, in Indianapolis. His first instrument was the alto-brass mellophone, and in high school he studied French horn and tuba as well as trumpet. After taking lessons with Max Woodbury, the first trumpeter of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, at the Arthur Jordan Conservatory of Music, he performed locally with, among others, the guitarist Wes Montgomery and his brothers.

Mr. Hubbard moved to New York in 1958 and almost immediately began working with groups led by the saxophonist Sonny Rollins, the drummer Philly Joe Jones and others. His profile rose in 1960 when he joined the roster of Blue Note, a leading jazz label; it rose further the next year when he was hired by Blakey, widely regarded as the music’s premier talent scout.

Adding his own spin to a style informed by Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis and Clifford Brown, Mr. Hubbard played trumpet with an unusual mix of melodic inventiveness and technical razzle-dazzle. The critics took notice. Leonard Feather called him “one of the most skilled, original and forceful trumpeters of the ’60s.”

After leaving Blakey’s band in 1964, Mr. Hubbard worked for a while with another drummer-bandleader, Max Roach, before forming his own group in 1966. Four years later he began recording for CTI, a record company that would soon become known for its aggressive efforts to market jazz musicians beyond the confines of the jazz audience.

His first albums for the label, notably “Red Clay,” contained some of the best playing of his career and, except for slicker production and the presence of some electric instruments, were not significantly different from his work for Blue Note. But his later albums on CTI, and the ones he made after leaving the label for Columbia in 1974, put less and less emphasis on improvisation and relied more and more on glossy arrangements and pop appeal. They sold well, for the most part, but were attacked, or in some cases simply ignored, by jazz critics. Within a few years Mr. Hubbard was expressing regrets about his career path.

Most of his recordings as a leader from the early 1980s on, for Pablo, Musicmasters and other labels, were small-group sessions emphasizing his gifts as an improviser that helped restore his critical reputation. But in 1992 he suffered a setback from which he never fully recovered.

By Mr. Hubbard’s own account, he seriously injured his upper lip that year by playing too hard, without warming up, once too often. The lip became infected, and for the rest of his life it was a struggle for him to play with his trademark strength and fire. As Howard Mandel explained in a 2008 Down Beat article, “His ability to project and hold a clear tone was damaged, so his fast finger flurries often result in blurts and blurs rather than explosive phrases.”

Mr. Hubbard nonetheless continued to perform and record sporadically, primarily on fluegelhorn rather than on the more demanding trumpet. In his last years he worked mostly with the trumpeter David Weiss, who featured Mr. Hubbard as a guest artist with his group, the New Jazz Composers Octet, on albums released under Mr. Hubbard’s name in 2001 and 2008, and at occasional nightclub engagements.

Mr. Hubbard won a Grammy Award for the album “First Light” in 1972 and was named a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master in 2006.

He is survived by his wife of 35 years, Briggie Hubbard, and his son, Duane.

Mr. Hubbard was once known as the brashest of jazzmen, but his personality as well as his music mellowed in the wake of his lip problems. In a 1995 interview with Fred Shuster of Down Beat, he offered some sober advice to younger musicians: “Don’t make the mistake I made of not taking care of myself. Please, keep your chops cool and don’t overblow.”

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