Freddie Hubbard: Pinnacle - Live and Unreleased from Keystone Korner
Pinnacle: Live and Unreleased from Keystone Korner
As album titles go, Pinnacle is closer to category than hyperbole. These seven previously unreleased tracks feature trumpeter and flugelhornist Freddie Hubbard at the apex of his abilities, recorded live at San Francisco's Keystone Korner. Some impressive West Coast talent joins the action, but Hubbard is the main attraction, and he never disappoints.
The medium tempo "Blues for Duane" illustrates the full range of Hubbard's technical and expressive powers. He enters softly but authoritatively, practically stepping over pianist Billy Childs' solo. At first Hubbard foregoes fireworks for lean, gutsy riffing. When he glisses up to two piercing yet thick high notes, it leads to double tonguing and quicksilver phrases, flowing into double-time for the whole ensemble. The rhythm section of Childs, Larry Klein on bass and Eddie Marshall on drums are with him at every stepwhile also sensing when to stay out Hubbard's way. Hubbard's most intricate lines are painstakingly articulated, keeping an earthy vibe even when they're off to the races. He winds back to the original tempo with more blues shouting, and closes having truly "told a story" rather than just constructed a solo.
Hubbard brings a similar sense of arc to a wistful "The Summer Knows." At ballad tempo, he creates a mood and eschews simplistic, cloying effects. Instead, the atmosphere is as much about pensive exploration as laidback scene setting. He pushes slightly harder when Marshall starts to bear down on his kit. The spacious feel eventually settles into an even four, but Hubbard keeps things both tender and muscular.
On "One Of Another Kind" he has a ball with trills, rapid-fire repetitions and spiraling patterns. Hadley Caliman's tenor saxophone also contributes hard-hitting runs and metallic cries, and Childs' piano pushes and pulls against Klein's metronomic ground grooves. Hubbard is at his most lighthearted on the funk-infused "Happiness Is Now," taking the title to heart and digging in with catchy descending figures. He enters and exits with a voluptuous lower register, combining the flugelhorn's agility with the brassy resonance of a euphonium.
Hubbard's speed, dynamics and creativity are always encased in his beauteous tone: at fast or slow tempos, on trumpet or flugelhorn, it comes through loud and clear even in the smallest details. And when Hubbard leans into a note, for example at the end of an effortless bop lick or the tart fusion blasts of "First Light," it's always integral rather than merely ornamental. That plush timbre softens the edge brought on by Childs' Rhodes and Kyle's metallic bass on "First Light," even as Hubbard uses it to whip his rhythm section into a frenzy.
Of course Hubbard also offers some driving, straightforward bop courtesy of "The Intrepid Fox" and "Giant Steps." Hubbard starts "Fox" on neat, melodic patterns, immediately changing things up with zigzagging angular phrases. From skipping intervals and high-note stutters, to theme swapping with Childs and more juicy, searing high notes, Hubbard pulls relentless contrast into a cohesive narrative.
"Giant Steps" revels in long, unbroken sequences, unraveling John Coltrane's labyrinthine chord changes at a blazing tempo. As Klein explained in a documentary about the making of Pinnacle, "Giant Steps" was Hubbard's way of showing what he could play on trumpet, and what many others couldn't play on saxophone. Yet there is a difference between hearing a player flex their chops, and hearing an artist do it: Hubbard has plenty to flex, not to mention imagination and soul to make it gripping.
Hubbard was an intense soloist whose technical firepower always targeted larger musical ends. As Pinnacle demonstrates, he couldn't show off without saying something sincere. Expressing and impressing were both part of Freddie Hubbard's story.
Tracks: The Intrepid Fox; First Light, One Of Another Kind; Happiness Is Now; The Summer Knows; Blues For Duane; Giant Steps.
Personnel: Freddie Hubbard: trumpet, flugelhorn; Billy Childs: piano, Rhodes piano; Larry Klein: bass; Phil Ranelin: trombone (1-4, 6, 7); Hadley Caliman: tenor saxophone (3, 6, 7); David Schnitter: tenor saxophone (1, 2, 4); Eddie Marshall: drums (3, 5-7); Sinclair Lott: drums (1, 2, 4).