CULT CLASSIC: FREDDIE HUBBARD-GLEAM.
By the time thirty-six year old Freddie Hubbard arrived in Japan, in March 1975, he was already regarded as one of the most influential trumpeters of his generation. That had been the case since the early sixties when, Freddie Hubbard’s career began, and he brought what was a new perspective to bebop and later, modern jazz. That had been the case when he was signed to Blue Note, Impulse, Atlantic, CTi and then Columbia.
Freddie Hubbard had signed to Columbia in 1974, after leaving Creed Taylor’s CTi label, which had been his home since 1971, and where he had released five albums. Soon, five would become six when CTi released Polar AC on April the ’18th’ 1975. It featured five tracks recorded during different sessions, which were packaged to make Polar AC. While the release of a new album usually excited Freddie Hubbard, he had moved on from CTi.
He was now signed to Columbia, and had released High Energy in the summer of 1974. However, the critics didn’t like High Energy, which didn’t compare well to some of the albums Freddie Hubbard had released at CTi. Especially, his CTi debut, Red Clay an album of hard bop which was released in May 1970 and Straight Life which was released later that year, and was soulful and funky. However, the followup First Light which was released on October the ’12th’ 1971 was Freddie Hubbard’s finest hour at CTi, and even better than Sky Dive that was released in early 1973. High Energy was compared to these albums, but there Freddie Hubbard’s Columbia debut wasn’t in the same ballpark.
Freddie Hubbard wasn’t used to failure, and took the critical response and commercial failure of High Energy to heart. He was keen to returned to the studio and record his second album for Columbia. That was the plan, a Japanese tour was scheduled and Freddie Hubbard was booked to play in venues across the land of the rising sun.
Joining bandleader and trumpeter Freddie Hubbard who also played the flugelhorn was the rest of his sextet. This including a rhythm section of drummer Carl Burnett, bassist Henry Franklin and George Cables on electric piano. They were joined by tenor saxophonist and flautist Carl Randall and percussionist and conga player Buck Clarke. They boarded the plane in America, and travelled halfway around the world, where they planned to record an album.
Columbia knew that Freddie Hubbard needed to record an album, and needed to record an album now. High Energy wasn’t a good start to his career at Columbia, who wanted their latest signing to make amends to his fans by recording a live album. Columbia began negotiating with their Japanese counterparts, to record a live album during the tour. Eventually, a deal was struck that a live album would be recorded at the Yubin Chokin Hall, on March the ’17th 1975, but released in Japan only. This was similar to a deal that Herbie Hancock had negotiated, and seemed to work well for him.
The idea of Freddie Hubbard releasing a live album in Japan was appealing, as the country had many jazz fans. However, Freddie Hubbard had also a large fan-base back home in America, and they wouldn’t be able to buy the album unless it was imported into the country. This Freddie Hubbard realised would be expensive for his loyal fans, who had followed his career for the best part of two decades. Many wouldn’t be able to afford or find his new album Gleam, which is a reminder of his 1975 Japanese tour.
When Freddie Hubbard and his band arrived in Japan, they knew had a few shows to tighten their sound, and hopefully, would bring their A-game to the Yubin Chokin Hall, on March the ’17th 1975.
This they spent the first few shows doing and working on the setlist for the recording of Gleam. Eventually, Freddie Hubbard arrived at a set that featured a mixture of the old and the new.
The old included George Cables’ Ebony Moonbeams and Steve Wonder’s Too High from High Energy. They were joined by Freddie Hubbard’s Spirit Of Trane from Keep Your Soul Together plus Thom Bell and Linda Creed’s Betcha By Golly Wow from Polar AC. New songs included David Nichtern’s Midnight At The Oasis, Carl Randall and Freddie Hubbard’s Put It In The Pocket and Kuntu which would feature Freddie Hubbard’s next studio album Liquid Love. Recording of Liquid Love was scheduled to start the day after Freddie Hubbard’s Japanese tour concluded. Before that, Freddie Hubbard had a live album to records.
When Freddie Hubbard took to the stage with his sextet, he planned to work his way through seven tracks, and once the respectful applause died down, he and his band launched into the grooving jazz funk of Put It In The Pocket. It gives way to Ebony Moonbeams where Freddie Hubbard unleashes one of his best performances. His playing is inventive, flamboyant and melodic as the arrangement meanders along ebbing and flowing allowing Freddie Hubbard before the tempo briefly rises as his crack band launch into a Latin groove. In doing so,they showcase their skills as jazz, funk, fusion and Latin melt into one.
Freddie Hubbard switches to flugelhorn on Betcha By Golly Wow, which gets a jazz-tinged makeover. However, it loses none of its beauty nor soulfulness during this dreamy and impassioned remake. Spirits Of Trane explodes out of the starting blocks, and this hard bop homage is the equivalent of a musical express train.
Kuntu is a near twenty-three minute epicwhich took up the entire third side of the original double album. This African inspired modal jazz track is one of the highlights of the album.
On the laid-back remake of Midnight At The Oasis Henry Franklin’s bass sets the scene for Freddie Hubbard’s tenor saxophone. Soon, the tempo is rising and this beautiful track is revealing its secrets. It’s one of the highlights of Gleam as funk and jazz combine. Closing Gleam is a cover of Too High from Stevie Wonder’s Innervisons album. Initially, it stays true to the original, but Freddie Hubbard forever the innovator heads in the direction of modal jazz. Later, when the solos come round, Freddie Hubbard and his band raise their game and close the concert and album on a resounding high.
Freddie Hubbard and his band brought their A-game to the Yubin Chokin Hall, on March the ’17th 1975, when he recorded what was his third live solo album. It found Freddie Hubbard and his talented band at the peak of their powers as they worked their way through familiar and new songs. They won over the audience as Freddie Hubbard switched between and combined disparate musical genres on Gleam which was produced by Keiichi Nakamura.
While jazz was the starting point, Freddie Hubbard incorporated elements of African and Latin music with funk, fusion, jazz, jazz-funk and modal jazz during what was an accomplished, innovative and inspired performance. It was as if Freddie Hubbard was keen to atone for the critical and commercial failure of High Energy. This he did on Gleam, where he rolled back the years and showed the audience what he was capable of.
Just a few months later, and Freddie Hubbard had completed Liquid Love, and was just about to release Gleam in Japan. It was released to widespread crucial acclaim was popular amongst Japanese jazz fans. Sadly, Freddie Hubbard ’s fans in America and elsewhere were unable to discover the delights of Gleam unless they could find or afford an imported copy. For many of Freddie Hubbard’s fans, Gleam was the album that got away and since then, it’s a cult classic that is appreciated by connoisseurs of jazz.
Freddie Hubbard’s third live album Gleam is akin to the musical equivalent of time travel. It’s like being in the Yubin Chokin Hall, on March the ’17th 1975, when Freddie Hubbard recorded Gleam, which was the finest live album of his long illustrious career that spanned six decades and fifty years.