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Wednesday, Dec 31, 2008
Hubbard’s always energetic, often exhilarating voice speaks for itself, and needs no one to augment or embellish the official record.

The next sentence is predictable as it is inevitable: Freddie Hubbard, had he happened to die at some point in the late (or even mid-) ‘60s, would have been forever lamented as one of the all-time great jazz trumpet players. He still should be, despite doing the very unhip thing and living a fairly good, fairly long life (he passed away Monday at age 70). In fairness to those with whom Hubbard fell out of favor (right around the same time jazz music in general tended to fall out of favor: in the early ‘70s): Hubbard’s finest work, by far, was made during the same decade so much of the greatest jazz music was made: the ‘60s. Two words: Blue Note. Freddie Hubbard, as much as any of the myriad A-list names from that time, was one of the heavyweights of that invaluable label—as a hotshot session player, and also as a leader of his own bands.


The people with whom he played—and made truly groundbreaking records—speaks volumes about the musician: Ornette Coleman (on the seminal Free Jazz session, from 1960), John Coltrane (the criminally overlooked Ole Coltrane, from 1961), Sonny Rollins (another overlooked masterwork, East Broadway Rundown, from 1966). He also appeared on some of the best-loved jazz albums ever, including Herbie Hancock’s Maiden Voyage (1965), Oliver Nelson’s The Blues and the Abstract Truth (1961), Wayne Shorter’s Speak No Evil (1964) and Eric Dolphy’s Out to Lunch!, (1964).


And then there is the considerable string of stellar recordings he made as a leader. A (very) short list of essential albums must include his remarkable debut from 1960, Open Sesame (when he was all of 22 years old), Ready for Freddie (1961), Red Clay and Straight Life (both from 1970). For my money, I’d also insist on throwing in three extremely undervalued efforts, 1962’s The Artistry of Freddie Hubbard, which includes a spirited take of the standard “Summertime” and an incendiary original number, “The 7th Day”; Blue Spirits (a fantastic session from 1965 well worth checking out for the title track alone), and finally, from the less-friendly ‘70s, Sky Dive, which provides a full-funk assault and has plenty of post-Miles cool quotient.


Speaking of Miles, it is hard to get around the Cool One when making any type of historical assessment of significant trumpet players, he looms that large. After (necessarily) bringing Clifford Brown into the equation (who, like Art Tatum and the piano, is often considered the penultimate player of his instrument even if he is not the best known or most frequently listened to), you have the genuine died-before-their-time duo of Lee Morgan and Booker Little. Then, maybe, talk turns to Freddie Hubbard. This is a shame, and Hubbard deserves better (not to take anything whatsoever away from any of the geniuses listed above). If one wanted to take stock of Hubbard’s place simply by considering the albums he was invited to appear on, it would be difficult to name a similarly influential or sought-after artist. Hubbard’s always energetic, often exhilarating voice speaks for itself, and needs no one to augment or embellish the official record. It is, as always, on the records.


Finally, for anyone curious to see for themselves why Hubbard is so beloved by the types of folks who tend to love jazz musicians, virtually any of the albums mentioned above come enthusiastically recommended. In terms of the unique and even ecstatic sounds Hubbard made with his horn, I’d turn to my favorite tunes from sessions he did not lead: “Hat and Beard” (from Dolphy’s Out to Lunch!, “Stolen Moments” (from Nelson’s The Blues and the Abstract Truth), “Dahomey Dance” (from Coltrane’s Ole Coltrane), “East Broadway Rundown” (from Rollins’ East Broadway Rundown) and “Little One” (from Hancock’s Maiden Voyage). For the faithful fans, I’m certain I’m not alone in immediately reaching for the last track on Straight Life, the sad but sweetly entitled “Here’s That Rainy Day”.


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Tuesday, Dec 23, 2008

James Taylor: isn’t he supposed to be the antithesis of a songwriter like Elvis Costello? Isn’t that what we were once taught, those of us who grew up seeking alternatives to the hold-overs of AM radio’s “soft rock” rein—Taylor, the sanitized, mother-approved opposite of a dangerous, subversive character like Costello?


I’ve been guilty of thinking this way before, of championing something that skirts outside the mainstream’s straight-and-narrow merely to satisfy my own contrarian agendas. And yet, this isn’t a healthy way to think, nor a healthy way to absorb music (or the possibilities offered by any experience, for that matter). There is room in our lives for both the James Taylors and the Elvis Costellos of this world: this is a truth that should be self-evident, but is not, and so it is a truth that the fourth episode of Spectacle: Elvis Costello With… (airing Wednesdays at 9pm EST/PST on the Sundance Channel) makes ringingly clear.


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Friday, Dec 19, 2008

An important new study has been published in the most recent British Medical Journal. The title: “Head and neck injury risks in heavy metal: head bangers stuck between rock and a hard bass.”


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Wednesday, Dec 17, 2008

Elvis becomes the other Elvis for the third episode of his weekly show, Spectacle: Elvis Costello With… (Wednesdays at 9pm EST/PST on the Sundance Channel), performing covers of “Mystery Train” and “Baby, Let’s Play House”. Pete Thomas and Davey Faragher are the rock-solid rhythm section, while nimble-fingered James Burton (formerly of Presley’s TCB band in the 1970s) handles lead guitar duties. The band shines, especially Burton, whose licks ripple up and down the guitar’s neck; Costello, on the other hand, takes too many liberties with the lyric’s phrasing, eventually throwing Faragher’s harmony vocal for a loop.


Despite its somewhat wobbly course, “Mystery Train” is an apt way to welcome native Arkansan and former President Bill Clinton, who speaks with Costello at length about music, politics, and the ways in which the two subjects often intersect.


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Tuesday, Dec 16, 2008
More revelations like this, and we may be approaching DEFCON 1 status in terms of authentic rock and roll debauchery.

From The Smoking Gun, an update on the infamous Van Halen M&M myth here (good news, it’s not a myth; bad news: it is, apparently, explicable):


“While the underlined rider entry (“M & M’s (WARNING: ABSOLUTELY NO BROWN ONES”) has often been described as an example of rock excess, the outlandish demand of multimillionaires, the group has said the M&M provision was included to make sure that promoters had actually read its lengthy rider. If brown M&M’s were in the backstage candy bowl, Van Halen surmised that more important aspects of a performance—lighting, staging, security, ticketing—may have been botched by an inattentive promoter.”


So, one of the most notorious instances of pop star prima donna antics is debunked, and for what turns out to be (ostensibly) legitimate reasons? That is almost enough to make one…respect Van Halen. And, well, I’m sorry but that is simply unacceptable.


Actually, even if this turns out to be the case (the band was as anal about their onstage performances as they were about their back-stage performances), it’s more difficult to dismiss them as the biggest buffoons in rock. Wait, no it isn’t. This is, after all, the band with David Lee Roth in it. This is the band that, once David Lee Roth left, never made any good music (man, that has to kill Eddie Van Halen). It’s almost enough to make you feel sorry for Eddie, knowing he had to work with David Lee Roth all those years. Then you realize: wait, Eddie might be even more insufferable than David Lee Roth! (Exhibit A: “Hey Michael Anthony, we’re finally doing that reunion tour thing; all the shows are sold out in advance…by the way, you’re not invited!”) But hey, I’m sure fans were delighted to see those stellar backing vocals provided by Eddie’s cherubic son Wolfgang (and by cherubic I mean chubby).


But more importantly, if we start acknowledging that some of these Spinal-Tap-inspiring anecdotes are not based in reality, we may be obliged to begin questioning how debased our rock gods actually were, back in the day. What’s next? Jimmy Page was actually just eating tuna fish on that boat? Gene Simmons did not bed 4,000 women? (Well, considering that Simmons, like David Lee Roth, is so obviously gay, this one is not such a stretch to disbelieve). Mick Jagger and David Bowie were just making sweet music together, literally? Ozzy Osbourne did not actually urinate on the Alamo in the early ’80s? (That would be the unkindest cut of all; I need Ozzy to have urinated on the Alamo.)


All this on the heels of the news that guitar guru Brian May just completed his PhD (!), in Astronomy (!!). More revelations like this and we may well be approaching DEFCON 1 status in terms of authentic rock and roll debauchery. James Hetfield? Clean and sober. Nikki Sixx? Same. Courtney Love? (Who cares). Practically all the others have now become the designated drivers that Keith Moon, John Bonham and Janis Joplin (to name a handful of favorite hard-cases) could have used, back in the day. At least we can still count on Keith Richards, right? Well, except for the fact that it’s pretty apparent even he doesn’t know who he is these days. Too many brown M&Ms will do that to you, apparently.


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