Straight Life, Freddie Hubbard (CTI, 1971)

Featuring: Freddie Hubbard (trumpet & flugel), Herbie Hancock (Fender Rhodes), Ron Carter (acoustic bass), Jack DeJohnette (drums), Richard 'Pablo' Landrum (congas), Weldon Irvine (tambourine), George Benson (electric guitar) & Joe Henderson (tenor sax)

Recorded in a one-day session on the 16th November 1970 and released the following January. The 17-minute opener ‘Straight Life’ is, as the Jazz historian Douglas Payne writes ‘almost a funked-up bossa’ with Joe Henderson trading, at times overshadowing Hubbard whose delicate performance offers a bridge between old and new.

But what I love most here, apart from the graceful making space for the various performers to come forward, is the atmospheric bass-line provided by Ron Carter. He conjures up an amazing sound, similar to a stone being dropped in water; not moving in any particular direction, not moving forward but providing the foundations. It sounds percussive, so deep, allowing the other instruments to offer their counterpoint, in particular the expressive fluidity of Jack DeJohnette; who Payne writes is ‘firing rapidly on all pistons, more like a rock drummer than a jazz drummer.’ Here’s more from Payne’s notes from the 40th anniversary re-release that also mentions Hancock ‘comping gloriously’:

Henderson solos magnificently in a trademark style that mixes the power and fury with the passion and fire of his unappreciated and undervalued Milestone albums of the period. Henderson’s solo nearly decimates Hubbard’s own solo – nothing shabby, but hardly matching the intensity of the song’s other performers. Hancock then solos in the funky melodic style he established on Fat Albert’s Rotunda (no spacey interludes here), followed by Benson providing an almost intellectual interjection that still has the warm soulful passion that seems to suggest the composer wanted to alternate Henderson and Hancock’s jazzier interludes with Hubbard’s and Benson’s soulful passages. A percussion workout ensues to bring it all back home. 

Read the rest of Payne's review here, cited on the blog of LA Jazz journalist, musician and producer Arnaldo DeSouteiro. Another critic on had this interesting opinion to share on ‘Straight Life’ …

What’s interesting, though, and what sets it apart from “Bitches Brew” is the bombastic melody parts. The heads are basically hard-bop styled on top of fusion rhythm sections. Unlike the dark Miles record, it’s upbeat and melodic, but not overly poppy or cheesey like some fusion.

The second track ‘Mr Clean’ is wildly beautiful as well; the final piece ‘Here’s that rainy day’ (a standard that comes from a forgotten Broadway musical) doesn’t do much for me.

Check out this extraordinary performance of Freddie Hubbard and band playing ‘Straight Life’ in Paris 1973, again it’s the rhythm section that stands out for me, with an amazing contribution by drummer Michael Carvin (does he have bones in his wrists?) and the band looking super cool, natch.

This 2001 interview with Freddie Hubbard by Ted Panken, originally published in Downbeat is also worth a look, which opens with a really nice description of Hubbard’s gift

He had a big sound, dark and warm, almost operatic. His breathtaking facility allowed him to play long, melodic lines of saxophonistic complexity; depending on the situation, he’d cover all the changes or navigate lucid paths through soundscapes comprising the most abstract shapes and timbres. In every situation, Hubbard projected the persona of trumpeter-as-gladiator, an image of strength, force and self-assurance that told several generations of aspirants, I’m Freddie Hubbard and you’re not.