Any doubts about whether the commercial or the creative Freddie Hubbard would show up at the Vine St. Bar & Grill on Wednesday night were quickly laid to rest by the trumpeter's first bright flurry of notes.
There's never been any question that Hubbard ranks as one of the two or three world-class trumpeters of the post-Miles Davis generation. But occasional flirtations with pop music-oriented venues have raised a few critical hackles.
What Hubbard's exuberant two-hour set made strikingly clear, however, was that his skills can range easily, and creatively, from avant-garde abstraction to down-home funk.
Opening with the highly sectionalized "Lifeflight," he took off like a passionate firebird, trailing an incandescent stream of notes that ignited both the music and his fellow musicians. Half-valve wails, piercing high notes, rapid runs and hard-driving swing were all grist for the mill, all part of a startling five-minute improvisation that virtually defined contemporary jazz trumpet.
Hubbard's fluegelhorn playing, especially on "Moment to Moment," was less intense, but equally creative. A few mechanical problems--a missed high note here, a fluffed phrase there--in no way distracted from his imaginative flow of ideas.
And when Hubbard finally dug into the calculated funk rhythms of "Superblue" he continued to mine musical gold. There may be reservations about some of his choices of material, but there can be no question about Hubbard's ability to make silk purses of sows' ears, no matter what he plays.
His back-up quintet--Bob Shepard on flute and tenor saxophone, John Beasley on piano, John B. Williams on bass and Ralph Penland on drums--provided consistently solid support, and sometimes a lot more than that.
Hubbard's engagement at the Vine St. Bar & Grill continues through Saturday night, with shows at 9:15 and 11:15 p.m.