Freddie Hubbard came to play in latest Keystone Korner live album ‘Pinnacle’
Review first appeared in Examiner June 28, 2011.
Back in the day, 30 years ago, the late Freddie Hubbard could play anything he heard, and he played his ass off; it was effortless for the monster trumpeter. At the height of his fame and game, Hubbard did a couple of high-quality gigs at the Keystone Korner stage in San Francisco, with a hot band of jazz greats known as his West Coast All-Stars. Together, they performed everything from some of Hubbard’s best to a particularly difficult John Contrane number called “Giant Steps.”
The result is an hour-plus collector’s item: Freddie Hubbard · Pinnacle, Live and Unreleased: From Keystone Korner. The live album through Resonance Records officially came out June 14, 2011, and features outstanding performances from trumpeter/flugelhornist Hubbard, pianist Billy Childs, bassist — and Joni Mitchell’s producer — Larry Klein, saxophonists Hadley Caliman and David Schnitter, trombonist Phil Ranelin, and drummers Eddie Marshall and Sinclair Lott.
The live album showcases Hubbard’s enormous range and ability to morph into whatever the song called for, whether it’s fast-tempo changes, to fluid, emotion-filled movements — oftentimes within one single piece. There’s also Hubbard’s unique take on Coltrane’s “Giant Steps,” the only take of his available in recorded form.
The Indianapolis native consorted with the kings of jazz (Miles Davis, Art Blakey, Lee Katzman, Slide Hampton, Eric Dolphy, Quincy Jones, Wayne Shorter) from NYC to the outskirts of wherever recording projects, festivals and regular gigs led him. Along the way towards a 2006 National Endowment for the Arts NEA Jazz Masters Award, a 1972 Grammy, over 100 notable recordings, and posthumous (he died of a heart attack in late 2008) legendary status, Hubbard laid the groundwork for innovations in virtuoso jazz trumpet sounds that both enveloped lightning but intricate feel and bold brass moves. He developed his style around the time he attended Arsenal Technical High School and participated in the band, on the French horn, tuba, mellophone, then flugelhorn and trumpet — his favorite grooves.
From the 1970s through the mid-90s, no one could touch Hubbard — whether he was doing his mainstream-friendly jazz for Atlantic and CTI Records, returning to his hard-bop roots with V.S.O.P.’s quintet (Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Tony Williams and Ron Carter), or guest-starring in pop star Billy Joel’s 1978 Grammy hit album, 52nd Street, for a track on “Zanzibar.” In the ’80s and ’90s, Hubbard, touring around with his own band, became a determining power player in nightclubs, festivals, and concerts throughout the U.S., Japan, and Europe. He made the rounds in Waikiki and in its hottest nightspot, Trapper’s, where all of the jazzers wound up after their regularly scheduled gigs, making lasting impressions on the local players there (Noel Okimoto, Byron Yasui, Rich Crandall).
Before Freddie Hubbard blew his lip out in a 1992 European show with Slide Hampton’s band (“I started playing high notes with [Jon] Faddis and got carried away. High notes aren’t my forte. I came back, went to Philly and played with some guys without warming up. That’s when my top lip popped. Then I went to New York and played the Blue Note for a week. That’s when I should have stopped cold [Downbeat interview by Fred Shuster, October 1995],”) the guy was on fire. Afterward, with an infection, a cancer scare, and sore lip tissue, nothing was ever really the same. Nevertheless, the big man continued to press on, doing gigs — although not as many as before — and clinics. In November of 2008, Freddie Hubbard suffered a heart attack at age 70, then passed away in December, leaving behind a tremendous legacy for generations to come.