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Freddie Hubbard: Straight Life (40th Anniversary Edition)

Jeff Dayton-Johnson By

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CTI Records reissued trumpeter Freddie Hubbard's November 1970 date, Straight Life, in 2011. As with some of the other reissues in this series (see John Kelman's in-depth discussion of some of the more important of these), its availability on compact disc has been spotty. Straight Life is a good—if not great—record, and it's good to have it back in circulation.

The album is pretty simple. Two numbers—the relatively fast title track and Weldon Irvine's slower-grooving "Mr. Clean"—are long modal-funk performances that provide opportunities for extended solos. A slightly incongruous flugelhorn/guitar duet on the standard "Here's That Rainy Day" closes the record.

A key attraction of Straight Life is the all-star band. Everyone on the record, at one point or another, manages an idiomatic blues-funk sound that is satisfying without being cloying; the opening notes of guitarist George Benson's solo on "Mr. Clean" provide a noteworthy example. Saxophonist Joe Henderson comes off as the most versatile contributor with two voluble, varied, and carefully conceived solos, one on each of the long cuts. Pianist Herbie Hancock is hampered by a dull-sounding electric keyboard, marimba-like with poor sustain. This doesn't prevent him from contributing good solos. He even inserts a little rhythmic figure in his comping under the leader's solo on the title track that seems to throw Hubbard off momentarily. Drummer Jack DeJohnette is perfectly suited to the incipient funk fusion sound of the two longer cuts.

Hubbard himself favors a kind of heroic virtuosity. In this partly plugged-in context, his trumpet playing resembles that of contemporaneous Miles Davis (whom trumpeter Ian Carr, the latter's biographer, aptly described as "superhuman"), even if he fails to match Davis' level of fiery inspiration.

In its modest but entirely enjoyable way, the album dispels two bits of conventional wisdom. The first is that the CTI catalog is dominated by slickly commercial, overproduced records. There were plenty of those, to be sure, but Straight Life (like more than a few of the other CTI reissues in this series) is a lean and serious jazz date. The second myth busted here is that the fusion following Miles Davis' epochal Bitches Brew (Columbia, 1970)—recorded about a year before Straight Life—didn't sound much like Bitches Brew or other Davis records of the period. Like Woody Shaw's Blackstone Legacy (Contemporary, 1970), Straight Life mixes the same brew of miasmic, atmospheric funk with improvisation somewhere between modal and free. Hubbard's disc, though, dispenses with the elaborate post-production assemblage of its Davis predecessor.

Above all, Straight Life demonstrates that the conceit of the "blowing session" survived well into the early fusion era.

Track Listing: Straight Life; Mr. Clean; Here's That Rainy Day.

Personnel: Freddie Hubbard: trumpet, flugelhorn; Joe Henderson: tenor saxophone; George Benson: guitar; Herbie Hancock: electric piano; Ron Carter: bass; Jack DeJohnette: drums; Richie Landrum: percussion; Weldon Irvine: tambourine.

Title: Straight Life (40th Anniversary Edition) | Year Released: 2012 | Record Label: CTI Records

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