By Devon Wendell
Freddie Hubbard was the quintessential Renaissance man of the trumpet during the 1960s. Hubbard’s superior technique, beautiful tone, and sheer confidence enabled him to do anything. From the start of the decade, he made bebop records with Dexter Gordon and Kenny Drew and hard-bop albums with Jackie McLean, Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers, Wayne Shorter and Hank Mobley. He proved to be one of the most prolific trumpeters of his generation. At that same time he was a key contributor to the avant-garde movement. The albums he made with John Coltrane, Eric Dolphy, and Ornette Coleman defined an entire genre. Hubbard was at the center of it all.
His recordings as a band leader for both the Blue Note and Impulse labels during this time are adventurous and relentlessly swinging. All of them are essential. Hubbard was a true master and pioneer as a soloist and composer. His playing could fit into any style and so he made it happen that way.
By 1969, Hubbard was reaching the end of his tenure with Blue Note. His live performances at the time were electrifying. That year, producer Sonny Lester recorded Hubbard at three separate venues in Europe with an exceptional quartet; Roland Hanna, piano, Ron Carter, bass, and Louis Hayes on drums. These recordings were released in 1971 as Freddie Hubbard: Without A Song:-Live In Europe 1969.
The album starts out with beautiful renditions of “Without A Song” (recorded on December 13, 1969 at Royal Festival Hall, London England) and “The Things We Did Last Summer” (recorded December 14, 1969 at Colston Hall, Bristol England). The tracks exemplify some of Hubbard’s greatest ballad work ever recorded. Hubbard’s big, rich tone, slow vibrato, combined with his unique harmonic and melodic sensibilities on these numbers alone make this album an essential purchase.
But there’s more. Hubbard’s unique readings of Dizzy Gillespie’s “A Night In Tunisia” and Miles Davis’ “Blues By Five” from the Bristol show are cooking. Hubbard plays in a more avant-garde style while staying true to the original arrangements of both songs. Louis Hayes’ bombastic bop drumming burns and pushes the rest of the band to play even harder. Roland Hanna’s piano style is elegant yet adventurous. Ron Carter’s masterful bass lines are simply perfect.
“Body And Soul” and “Space Track” were recorded in early December (no specific date or venue name given) in Germany, 1969. The first features more of Hubbard’s tender approach to tackling ballads. Ron Carter’s bass sounds as if it’s leading the band here. Hanna only comes in sporadically, and Hayes plays very softly. The effect produced is unique and it is obvious that this was something that happened in that moment and never again repeated. The reversal of roles within the band makes the music all the more compelling. This is what a great jazz performance is truly all about.
At times, Hubbard makes the trumpet sound like a human voice crying in pain. This is inspired music.
‘Space Track” is an avant-garde piece. The band often changes tempo and explores new sonic landscapes. Hubbard’s dynamics are amazing. He plays softer than a whisper one moment and then soars loudly the next. No matter how far “out” Hubbard and the band ventures, they never cease to swing and create incredible music on the spot.
The album finishes with a fiery version of Hubbard’s original masterpiece “Hub-Tones” from the Royal Festival Hall show in London.
Hubbard plays with a ferocity and freedom rarely heard on record. Louis Hayes delivers a superb drum solo. The sound of this band is so unique. I wish Hubbard would have recorded more music with this magnificent lineup.
Freddie Hubbard: Without A Song-Live In Europe 1969 is one of the most intriguing live jazz albums of the ‘60s. It captures Hubbard at one of his many peaks, paired with the kind of band that one dreams about. This is a must have.