Posted: December 27th, 2008
From the opening bursts of Freddie Hubbard’s trumpet on the title track, Straight Life hits the ground running as an electrifying classic. Recorded in 1970, this album demonstrates why the early years of fusion were really the best, as adventurous jazz musicians (like those assembled here) began incorporating the drive of rock and the fat grooves of funk into their evolving sounds. This is hands-down Freddie Hubbard’s most enjoyable post-’60s date as a leader. His technical prowess is inoffensively put on display, driven as it is by the contagiously high energy level of his all-star group, which includes such luminaries as Joe Henderson on sax, George Benson on guitar, and Herbie Hancock on piano.
The dream-team rhythm section (comprised of Hancock, bassist Ron Carter, and drummer Jack DeJohnette) generates an incendiary groove that pushes everybody into unexplored terrain and lofty heights. Hubbard’s opening solo on the title track really challenges his compatriots, each of whom rises to the occasion, adding new levels of intensity to the funky brew with successively brilliant solos.
Henderson and Hancock take honors, but the real kudos goes to DeJohnette, whose frenetic work on the symbols and snare fuels the fire. The second track, “Mr. Clean,” kicks off with a bluesy groove laid down by George Benson, who reveals why he was once regarded as the most promising guitarist in jazz. DeJohnette gets inside the groove and stays there, allowing Henderson and Hancock to blast-off once again. Hubbard expands over the unstoppable rhythms, bursting forth with such a searing in-your-face bravado that one wonders if “Mr. Clean” was actually named in his honor. Whatever the case, this is a pulse-quickening jam that instantly pulls you in, and stays in your head for days.
The last track, “Here’s That Rainy Day,” is a very pretty duet between Hubbard and Benson, who put gentle touches on this timeless ballad. But a conventional ballad is totally out of place here, and should have been put on another album. Still, Straight Life is an essential recording that well deserves your immediate attention.
- Freddie Hubbard – Trumpet/Flugelhorn
- Joe Henderson – Saxophone
- George Benson – Guitar
- Herbie Hancock – Piano
- Ron Carter – Bass
- Jack DeJohnette – Drums
- Richie Landrum – Percussion
- Weldon Irvine – Tambourine
- Straight Life (17:27)
- Mr. Clean (13:34)
- Here’s That Rainy Day (5:16)
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