Analogue Productions has begun an exciting project of reissuing Impulse! jazz recordings on Hybrid SACD (Super Audio CD); and the results are being distributed through Harmonia Mundi. Impulse! was formed in 1960 by Creed Taylor as a subsidiary of ABC-Paramount Records, and it quickly established itself as a source of adventurous new directions in jazz. In 1961 Taylor passed the baton to Bob Thiele; and, before the end of that decade, Thiele had produced some of the most revolutionary albums in jazz history. Half a century later, these albums still have the power to astonish; and the high-quality audio revival of their content is significant for any serious jazz listener, not to mention those in classical music who recognize jazz as “chamber music by other means.”
One of the latest SACD releases is The Artistry of Freddie Hubbard, the first recording made (in 1962) by this ambitious trumpeter under his own name. However, truth be told (as they say), this album is as significant for the sidemen as it is as a showcase for Hubbard himself. Like Hubbard, two of them are “graduates” of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, trombonist Curtis Fuller and saxophonist John Gilmore, although Gilmore’s primary influence came from his work with Sun Ra, which dates back to 1953. There is also a solid straight-ahead rhythm section manned by pianist Tommy Flanagan, bassist Art Davis, and drummer Louis Hayes.
The only real disappointment is that there are only five tracks on this recording amounting to about 40 minutes of music. My understanding is that the Impulse! team never wanted to cram too much on a single vinyl side in the interest of providing better dynamic range. By current CD standards the results are a bit skimpy, but they are still well worth the listen. Three of the tracks are by Hubbard, “Happy Times” (Track 2), “Bob’s Place” (Track 3), and “The 7th Day” (Track 5). (Note that the first two of these are mislabeled in the booklet. For all I know, this was also the case with the original vinyl release. As I have discovered on other occasions, the folks at Impulse! were not always at their best in proofreading text copy; but we cannot argue with the level of attention given to audio quality!) The remaining two tracks are familiar standards, “Caravan” and “Summertime,” although the three-beat approach to the latter makes it anything but a standard interpretation.
This was not Hubbard’s first gig with Impulse! He was also part of the group that had recorded one of Taylor’s first major successes for the label, Oliver Nelson’s The Blues and the Abstract Truth. In that dichotomy this album consists almost entirely of “abstract truth,” although there is a bit of blue coloration to the flamenco ostinato sounds that drive The 7th Day.
Compared with some of his more explosive performances, Hubbard sounds positively disciplined on all five of these tracks. My personal take is that this shows that he took his role as a leader seriously. This is why that chamber music metaphor is so appropriate to this particular album. The whole recording session (all of which took place on July 2, 1962) comes off as a conversation among equals, which Hubbard guides without always dominating. The result is that, 50 years on, this album is as much a must-have listening experience as it was when it was first released; and that says more than a little about the enduring legacy of Hubbard himself, who died in December of 2008.