Writing in “The Biographical Encyclopedia of Jazz”, Feather and Gitler said of Hubbard, “…his sound, technique and fire made him an exemplar of the style [hard bop].”
On the allmusic.com web site, Scott Yanow declared that Hubbard was “One of the greatest jazz trumpeters of all time…”
Downbeat magazine called him “the most powerful and prolific trumpeter in jazz.”
At one time or another, Hubbard played with most of the “best of the best” of the jazz world. Examples include Philly Joe Jones, J.J. Johnson, Sonny Rollins, Slide Hampton, Quincy Jones, Art Blakey, Ornett Coleman, John Coltrane, Max Roach, and on and on and on. He also performed on several movie soundtracks, with his music appearing in 2002’s “Brown Sugar” and the 1998 picture “Around The Fire”, which starred former teen heart throb Devon Sawa.
The Hubbard album I’ve chosen to discuss is the 1971 release, “Straight Life”. As always, we’ll begin with the personnel, and what a group this is!
“Straight Life” is, from the perspective of 21st century America, downright miniscule, featuring only three songs which run a total of just under 37 minutes.
Track one is the title track, the only Hubbard composition on the album, and at 17 minutes 30 seconds is the longest song on the album. The first time I heard “Straight Life”, I was put off a bit by the machine gun riff that Hubbard assaults us with at the beginning of the song. I can only assume that it was a quite a technical feat because other writers have singled out this same beginning for praise. I’ll leave it to others to discuss the technical pros and cons, as I have neither the training nor the inclination to go there.
Once the machine gun is put away we are left with one hell of a song performed by an outstanding collection of jazz musicians. Hubbard continues to dazzle the ear with his dynamic playing, but as usual for a jazz piece this is a group effort and this group is superb.
This number is so long it’s difficult to single out any one musician. As I am writing this sentence I am nine minutes into what must be my fifth or sixth time through this song, and Hancock is tearing it up on the piano while DeJohnette’s playing sounds as though his kit must have needed some major repairs after he finished beating the crap out of it. Benson’s guitar work is, as you would expect, exhilarating in its perfection. Now fifteen minutes in, and DeJohnette’s kit still hasn’t fallen apart, thanks to some miracle, and he and Benson are going crazy. Now comes Hubbard back into the fray for the last minute and a half.
Benson starts it off and is joined very shortly by the rest of the group. Hubbard, ever the master of his instrument, strays at times into the kind of atonal expression that I personally don’t care for, while DeJohnette, Benson and Carter keep it centered. Eventually the show-off stuff is left behind and the whole group settles down into a groove of great music.
The final song, and the shortest of the three, is the classic “Here’s That Rainy Day”. This is a nice, mellow song that features mainly Hubbard, Benson and Carter. After the almost frenetic pace of the first two pieces, this makes a beautiful end to the album. Ultimately it is Hubbard and Benson, softly fading into nothing.
Freddie Hubbard recorded a huge number of albums during a career that spanned six decades, including several albums that were not released until after his death. “Straight Life” was recorded when he was absolutely at the top of his form, during the same period when he recorded two other albums that are considered to be among his best: “Red Clay” and “First Light”.
I’ll leave it to others to decide if “Straight Life” is in their class or not. What I am sure of is, Freddie Hubbard’s “Straight Life” would make an excellent addition to your personal playlist for a Saturday, or any other night!
To learn more about Freddie Hubbard and his music, you can: