FREDDIE HUBBARD: ‘High Energy’ (Label: Wounded Bird)

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In 1974, trumpeter Freddie Hubbard was made a financial offer he couldn’t refuse and left producer Creed Taylor’s independent CTI label for Columbia Records. It was a kick in the teeth for Taylor and CTI, who had helped transform the former Jazz Messenger into a bona fide star of the fusion era with hugely successful albums like ‘Red Clay’ and the Grammy-winning ‘First Light.’ Hubbard’s switch to Columbia might have fattened his bank account but it was a period in his career that many jazz critics opined was thin on quality. Perhaps this is one reason why most of the titles in the Indianapolis-born horn maestro’s Columbia catalogue have never been reissued at all. Now, though, the no frills US reissue company, Wounded Bird, has licensed the rights from Sony to reissue most of Hubbard’s ’70s Columbia albums (I say most because the 1974 Japanese-only album, ‘Gleam,’ a live set, remains unissued on CD). So for the first time, ‘High Energy’ (1974), ‘Liquid Love’ (1975), ‘Windjammer’ (1976), ‘Bundle Of Joy’ (1977), ‘The Love Connection’ (1979) and ‘Skagly’ (1980) are transported into the digital age. Hubbard’s debut for Columbia, 1974’s ‘High Energy,’ is no classic but it’s certainly a solid – and sometimes exciting – fusion effort with sufficient edginess to appease those who were offended by the largely insipid, jazz-lite confection served up on the Bob James-helmed ‘Windjammer.’ The fact that ‘High Energy’ was produced by Doors’ producer Paul A. Rothchild was enough to give most jazz fans a case of apoplexy back in 1974 but apart from a few wild rock-style guitar solos on the spacey opening cut, ‘Camel Rise,’ ‘High Energy’ stands up to 21st century critical scrutiny rather well. Though it’s not in the exalted league of ‘Red Clay or ‘First Light,’ it’s nevertheless certainly worthy of reissue. The eerily beautiful ballad ‘Ebony Moonbeams’ – penned by Hubbard’s then pianist, George Cables – is a stone cold fusion classic and the exploratory ‘Baraka Sasa’ isn’t far off. ‘Crisis’ has an infectious funk undertow while ‘Black Maybe’ – a cover of the tune that Stevie Wonder penned for Syreeta on her MoWest debut LP – shows the lyrical, reflective, side of Hubbard’s playing. Another Wonder-scribed tune, ‘Too High,’ closes the album. For fans of the late great trumpeter, this is an essential purchase, though it’s a pity that there are no liners notes to illuminate what was a fascinating if uneven period in the Hubbard’s career.
(CW) 4/5