The end of 2008 was a tough time for me as it related to jazz, primarily because the jazz world lost Freddie Hubbard due to complications from a heart attack right before 2009.
As a trumpet player myself, Hubbard was my biggest influence, but he also struck me as a “survivor”. Both Clifford Brown and Lee Morgan were lost before their time, and Freddie tore through the 70’s with mind-blowing recordings (both live and studio) when jazz needed a trumpeter to be mind-blowing.
I swear to you, I learned how to solo from Hubbard’s recording of “Birdlike”, realized how much harder I needed to work when I heard “Red Clay” and “Straight Life”, and found out how I had no chance of being truly good (yet always inspired) after listening to his Live at the North Sea Jazz Festival recording from 1980.
While things might have declined for Hubbard both personally and professional after that, I always held the special things he did in his prime close to my heart. In situations like this, you always hope there is more. You don’t want him to leave this earth with a few sub-par albums that he struggled through and assume that was it.
For those who have longed to come across some unheard gem from Freddie (and I certainly was one of them), then Pinnacle: Live & Unreleased from Keystone Korner is like that unopened Christmas present that had been forgotten about in the closet for several months until it was wandered across.
Pinnacle: Live & Unreleased from Keystone Korner features live recordings from June and October of 1980, and offers everything a fan would want if they were to be handed a CD from someone who said “Hey, I found some previously unreleased live Hub for ya.” Certainly not polished or commercial enough to ever get a spin on radio, but filled with life and personality that reminds you of why he was so great to begin with.
With this CD, I was actually glad that it wasn’t perfect, at least in the studio quality sense of the word. There are hints of distortion from time to time, but that helps me actually picture Freddie playing with the bell of his horn encompassing the microphone. The balance is off from time to time, but it helps me actually picture the rest of the band around and behind him up on a stage.
And his improvisation is as good as it always was, offering speed, tone, creativity, and range on all tracks, helping me once again refresh my mindset of one of the most talented jazz musicians ever.
For those of us from the Pacific Northwest (and in many cases, beyond), this recording offers even more sentiment, as a few of the tracks feature the late Seattle favorite Hadley Caliman, who passed away at the end of 2010. To hear Freddie and Hadley tear it up on “Giant Steps” brings back wonderful memories of two talents gone but not forgotten.
This is a great album that should be added to your collection, but do yourself a favor and purchase the actual CD, rather than a digital download. The liner notes are exceptional, and feature wonderful photos of Freddie and Hadley, as well as Larry Klein, Eddie Marshall, Billy Childs, David Schnitter, and Phil Ranelin, who make up the rest of the musicians on this release.
Fans of Freddie Hubbard should treat this release as a collectors item and something to smile about versus something that comes up on an Mp3 shuffle. Highly recommended.