Joe Henderson

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 Sputnikmusic.com 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.

The Elements, Joe Henderson (Milestone, 1974)

Personnel: Joe Henderson (tenor saxophone, flute, alto flute, piano); Alice Coltrane (harp, piano, harmonium, tamboura); Kenneth Nash (spoken vocals, wood flute, congas, sakura drum, bells, gongs, percussion); Michael White (violin); Charlie Haden (bass); Ndugu Chancler (drums); Baba Daru Oshun (tabla, percussion). Recorded at Village Recorder Studio, Los Angeles CA Oct 15-17 1973

One critic began his review of this 1974 release with the following comment, ‘This is one of the odder Joe Henderson recordings’ - while the comment made me laugh, it puzzled me as this record is strikingly coherent; in its theme, the four elements (Fire/Air/Water/Earth) and the way the musicians meld together, as one commentary put it, ‘the musicians' collective genius at listening and responding to each other’.

Combining both epic, melodic expressions of spirituality and belief (see the final 13-minute piece ‘Earth’) and deconstructed musical play (found in the lively opener that I wrote 'sounds like plastic' and keeps popping unexpectedly, ‘Fire’ for example) but always, always pushed along by a musical intensity and sharp intelligence. You can still feel the energy of this music, more than four decades on from when it was first recorded and imagined.

As with any truly great Jazz record, it needs to be heard in one sitting, to allow the memory of the earlier pieces to inform your experience of what is happening now, in the present moment. I first came to this music via ‘Earth’ (seeking out anything I could find that featured Alice Coltrane) but more recently I’ve been listening to ‘Water’ on repeat. In the words of another fan of the record:

Joe does things on this album that are unlike anything else he ever did as far as the sound and tone of his sax are concerned. One example of this is the effects he uses on the third cut ‘Water’. He was able to “treat” his sax to make it sound as if it were emanating from the far depths of the ocean …

Coda: 

Alice Coltrane ... (Paris: November, 2015)

Making lists, on scraps of paper - post-it notes that will later be put in my bag; just in case I forget something, only to be reminded of it on my return.

The police found a car, abandoned near Simplon. They say that the car was left there by the (as yet) unnamed 9th attacker; they say that this might mean that the terrorists had been planning to attack the 18th as well.

Last night, lying in bed, listening to music - my 75018 T-shirt, faded - I think to myself, I need to write about jazz again. Music after a holocaust ...

I saw the video of a pregnant woman, hanging outside the bar window, calling out to those below her to catch her (before being pulled back inside, where the men with guns were). Someone compared the dead bodies to Dante's Inferno. Some hid for hours and could hear the people being tortured, with knives (this is what I read). 

There are words to be written here about what remains.  Of wonder and awe  ... 

After great suffering and loss. 

After great pain, a formal feeling comes –
The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs –
The stiff Heart questions ‘was it He, that bore,’
And ‘Yesterday, or Centuries before’?

The Feet, mechanical, go round –
A Wooden way
Of Ground, or Air, or Ought –
Regardless grown,
A Quartz contentment, like a stone –

This is the Hour of Lead –
Remembered, if outlived,
As Freezing persons, recollect the Snow –
First – Chill – then Stupor – then the letting go –
— After great pain, a formal feeling comes – (372) BY EMILY DICKINSON

I typed part of this poem many years ago and placed it near my desk.

The city shut the libraries, told us not to go to public spaces and stay inside. I walked with my son around the neighbourhood as we had nowhere else to go (the metro was deserted, it remained like that for days). I asked a mother on the Sunday if the parks were still closed.

Today I saw that they were warning us not to mention the location of police, as it may aid the terrorists (is the 'mastermind' in Saint-Denis, or in Syria). I went to see a film at UGC Les Halles, it was empty of people; two men in front of me carried large bags, I told the security guard (he thanked me), I was too frightened to go inside; I had to leave.

Music after the holocaust. Of and about transcendence ...

There are words to be written here.