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JAZZ REVIEW : Hubbard Comes On a Little Too Strong

When it comes to technique, trumpeter Freddie Hubbard has few equals. Sometimes, though, his fancy flourishes get in the way of a song’s emotional potential.

This tendency to just plain overdo it was apparent Wednesday night, Hubbard’s first of five nights at Elario’s with a quintet including Randy Porter on piano, Sherman Ferguson on drums, Marshall Hawkins on bass and Bob Shepard on saxes.

Hubbard has long tried to distance himself from trumpeter Miles Davis, now in his fifth decade as a jazz legend and beacon of hipness. When Davis was playing cool jazz in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, no one wanted to be accused of copying him. And when he went electric in the late ‘60s and stayed plugged in for good, musicians, including Hubbard, made sure their first experiments with electricity were different.

It wasn’t just format that separated the two trumpeters. For the most part, Davis has always favored a minimalist approach wherein silences are as important as what he plays. Hubbard, though, is just the opposite: He comes out with guns a-blazin’, showcasing skills Davis can only dream about. But, despite Hubbard’s raw talent, the glass-shattering highs, machine-gun bursts of notes and other displays of virtuosity are often overwhelming.

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A delayed airplane flight and the fact that he had never played with some of the musicians didn’t keep Hubbard from getting down to business. For his first tune, he selected Thelonious Monk’s “Rhythm-a-ning,” stating its quirky, signature theme in unison with Shepard.

Hubbard’s raw power was immediately apparent. At times, he stepped away from the mike, but his playing was still perfectly audible. He is equally at home with trumpet and the fuller-sounding fluegelhorn, and his solos are an encyclopedia of ideas, including subtle references to various be-bop standards and even to some of his own mid-'70s fusion albums.

A few songs later, Hubbard showed amazing control on “I Can’t Get Started With You.” His plaintive opening served as the perfect introduction to this lush ballad. Throughout the song, Hubbard’s playing was full of surprises: slurry cries, subtle vibrato, even his use of the mike to emphasize dynamics, from loud to soft, and from a full sound to a flat, brittle tone.

On other numbers, though, Hubbard’s fascination with executing one trick after another became tiresome. After a while, you yearned for a few well-placed silences so one phrase could sink in before he sped on to another.

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Shepard was the evening’s bonus. Before Hubbard arrived, the group played two songs without him, and Shepard proved he is a capable leader on his own. Throughout the evening, he alternated between soprano and tenor saxes. His inventive streams of improvisation, sometimes reminiscent of John Coltrane, were a source of constant satisfaction.

Elario’s through Sunday night. Shows tonight and Saturday are at 9, 10:30 and midnight; Sunday he plays at 8:30 and 10:30.


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