The Birth of Funk, Soul, Cool
(The following review was published in the Indiana Daily Student April 27, 2006)
In the world of jazz there are the major players — cats like Miles, Coltrane, Monk, Mingus, Bird, Gillespie — then there are the musicians who, although were equally as talented and important to the music, did not gain the same colossal level of popularity as the bigger names. Trumpet legend and Indianapolis native Freddie Hubbard is one of these artists.
While Hubbard had a strong early career as a backup player for bebop artists like Art Blakey and Sonny Rollins some of his most brilliant and often overlooked recordings came during the 1970s funk/fusion exploration era with collaborations with pianist Herbie Hancock, guitarist George Benson and bassist Ron Carter.
Hubbard’s Red Clay was released a year after Miles Davis’s monumental crossover into fusion territory Bitches Brew and four years before Hancock’s hugely popular funk odyssey Headhunters. The album, while more straight jazz than the avant-garde sounds of Brew, might be one of the first escapades into the fusion of soul, funk and R&B, with conventional jazz sounds.
Hubbard blends his fiery trumpet licks with the cool mellow grooves of Hancock’s legendary Fender Rhodes (an instrument that has since been forgotten) and Joe Henderson’s dark yet slick tenor saxophone accompaniments. The players are at the top of the game and the songs have the kind of crisp delivery that resonates long after the opening chords are played.
The smooth grooving title track is one part Hancock’s “Chameleon,” one part Brew with a little Issac Hayes’ Shaft! soul flavor thrown in to the equation. The 12 minute cut features a driving melodic funk beat, crisp drum chops by Lenny White and scorching trumpet solos by Hubbard.
Red Clay is not Hubbard’s most recognizable album and might not be his finest in terms of musical chops, however, for jazz enthusiasts or those just jumping into the genre, the album acts as a wonderfully accessible collection of ’70s funk/jazz music that truly embodies the jazzism, “the birth of cool.”