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Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Retro Review - Freddie Hubbard "Ride Like the Wind"

Freddie Hubbard "Ride Like the Wind" (recorded 1981)

Score: 2/5
It may appear I'm shooting fish in a barrel for this one, but in my defense I approve of albums others disdain, and I'm frequently at odds with the chaps over at Allmusic, whose occasionally scary opinions seem to hold much weight in jazzlandia.

First, let it briefly be said that there will never be another trumpet player as good as Freddie Hubbard in his prime. There is no adjective to describe just how impossibly good he was, from tone to technique. Secondly, this album was recorded live to two tracks. For that, it sounds really good, and the performances are exceptionally tight from the orchestra and brass sections.

Track by Track (briefly):

"Hubbard's Cupboard" is one of three originals by the album's arranger and conductor Allyn Ferguson. All three are largely mediocre. At times, Ferguson seems to be trying to channel the ghost of Isaac Hayes' writing on the "Shaft" soundtrack. Overall not bad, not great, just kinda fun.

"This Is It" (yes the Kenny Loggins hit) suffers from a tepid arrangement, odd register choices for (or by) Hubbard and a faster tempo. Without the motivational lyrics, it is not a well suited instrumental and is the album's clinker.

Ferguson's soul ballad "Condition Alpha" is the best of his three. No memorable melody here, but the vibe is quite nice and Freddie throws in an exceptional and extended acrobatic solo. Again, the strings during this solo hearken of "Shaft"; in a good way.

"Ride Like the Wind" starts out rather tamely, but Freddie digs in from his solo onward. Ferguson oddly makes us wait for that killer refrain ("bah-dah-dah-dup...) and I kind of like that he did that. That said, the orchestra is strangely laid back on them; and even more sadly, Freddie's obvious inspiration during the last refrain gets faded out immediately. Still, his fire makes this the stand out track.

Side two opens with "Birdland", a composition that many arrangers have difficulty pulling away from every note of the original Weather Report version. Ferguson also succumbs, but he at least tries to alter here and there. Another good solo from Hubbard and some decent energy from the brass lift this track up a bit; but it's still not something you're gonna share with friends or post on social media.

Then we are confronted with yet another version of Hubbard's ballad "Brigitte". Even he sounds a bit tired of it (the best version can be found on the 1973 album "Keep Your Soul Together"). Ferguson choice to make the "hook" into an awkward fusion samba literally takes all the punch out of it. The ending sounds like a justifiably exasperated sigh.

Ferguson's "Two Moods For Freddie" borrows so much from "I Remember Clifford" that it's disappointing when you discover that it isn't. Things do get cooking a bit (another fusion samba) with Freddie's improvisation, and thankfully trombonist Bill Watrous gets a brief solo as well.

So all in all, if you spot a good copy for $1 (I got mine for $3) and you're either curious or just love every note Freddie plays, then pick it up. Otherwise, forget about this one guilt free.

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