In 1967, after Freddie Hubbard had skyrocketed to the jazz listening public's attention with, it seemed, one legendary recording after another and after developing a high touring profile, he performed in Baltimore. As fate would have it, Vernon Welsh diligently recorded Hubbard's live recording at the Famous Ballroom, as he did for uncounted other thrilling performances. Not knowing the magic that his tapes would capture when he turned on the recorder, Welsh nevertheless persevered, documenting the interactions and improvisations and highlights of some of the leading jazz musicians of the 1960's and 1970's. As circumstance would have it, Joel Dorn remembered those tapes and, as legend now has it, he struck a deal to release those tapes for the first time on Label M.
The sixth in what seems to become a long series of Left Bank Jazz Society releases, Fastball: "Live" At The Left Bank captures Freddie Hubbard's immediate connection with his audiences in the midst of his career's most productive years. As he introduces "Echoes Of Blue," he jokes with the audience that "this is a different kind of blues...this is the story of my life." When Kenny Barron starts out with an in-the-tradition introduction, the crowd goes "yeah," and Hubbard sets up a low-register growl that Bennie Maupin imitates. With his assertive attack on the notes and his brassy tone, Hubbard includes his whole range of effects throughout the concert: blurts, swoops, intervallic leaps, half-valve buzz and upper-register trills. The audience seemed to love it, for the recording captures their reactions, which become an integral part of the performance as well.
Opening with Clare Fischer's lilting "Pensativa," Hubbard's quintet eases into its varied repertoire with melodic extroversion. The mid-point of the recording, Hubbard's composition "Crisis," combines a lowering-of-expectations descending phrase before the tune takes off with its celebratory resolution of the theme. "Willow Weep For Me" begins with a keeping-you-on-the-edge-of-your-seat trumpet cadenza evolving into a swaying bluesy approach that stresses mood and startling technical effect over lyricism. Sure enough, Hubbard symmetrically ends the tune with an similarly crowd-pleasing cadenza that combines off-the-cuff bursts of fireworks with emotionally charged lower-register drama.
Bennie Maupin offers a deep-throated, tuneful tone on the tenor that's the counterpoint to Hubbard's quick and aggressive work when he leads each tune. And Kenny Barron is the consummate professional, as always, comping inconspicuously when the horns are in the spotlight and then developing just-right piano solos as the occasion arises. As on all of the other Left Bank Jazz Society recordings, though, Barron's piano is not the equal of his talent, its sound seeming to be that of a muffled upright.
Released from the studio environment, Freddie Hubbard was free that night in Baltimore to stretch out and have a good time. And now, 34 years later, we can have a good time too by enjoying one more recording by one of jazz' great trumpeters.
Track Listing: Pensativa, Echoes Of Blue, Crisis, Willow Weep For Me, Bob's Place