Freddie Hubbard: Pinnacle Live and Unreleased from Keystone Korner

Powerful, live hard-bop trumpet from a late but exciting period in a great career.

Freddie Hubbard

Pinnacle Live and Unreleased from Keystone Korner

Label: Resonance
US Release Date: 2011-06-14
UK Release Date: 2011-03-21

Jazz has been compared to basketball more than once because of the way the players have to work together around a common theme while, mostly, improvising. It's not a bad analogy. If jazz is basketball, then trumpeter Freddie Hubbard was one of those flashy, driving guards who specialized in circus moves and wild shots, trying to score 50 points every time he hit the hardwood. He had a subtler game too -- a beautiful way with a ballad, like a sweet no-look pass -- but mostly Hubbard was all about acrobatics, playing high and fast and hard.

Pinnacle is a previously unreleased batch of recordings from 1980, live at San Francisco’s Keystone Korner, that feature Hubbard at his most athletic and show-offy. For other players, that might not result in great art, but Hubbard was all about making his flash into substance. He didn’t play this way for its own sake but more because his art was built on stretching the horn to its expressive limits. And so Pinnacle is a fine pleasure, a great artist being wonderfully himself.

The two bands featured here were not among the best the man played with. Hub was a veteran of one of the finest editions of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, and he would play with giants like Joe Henderson, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Tony Williams and Woody Shaw even later in his career. Here, his best foil is pianist Billy Childs, whose solos have fire and great invention. Larry Klein is on bass, a trombonist named Phil Ranelin acquits himself nicely, and then different dates feature either David Schnitter or Hadley Caliman on tenor saxophone and Eddie Marshall or Sinclair Lott on drums. Mostly, these dates were vehicles for Hubbard to tear up some of the tunes with which he was most associated over the years.

The repertoire runs a decent gamut. Jazz fans of the purer variety will dig Hubbard’s “Blues For Duane”, which features an astonishing trumpet solo that begins with expressive smears, shifts into sharp double-time runs, and then results in the rhythm section shifting to double-time as well for a long romp that Hubbard then cools back down into a hard-grooving return. Wow. This also marks the only recording we have of Hubbard playing Coltrane’s famously tricky “Giant Steps”. The band takes it at a classic, blistering pace, and Hubbard is a waterfall of ideas for five full, burning minutes. Double wow.

Two of the leader’s best hard bop tunes are here as well: “The Intrepid Fox” from Red Clay and “One of Another Kind” from Hubbard’s time in the VSOP all-star quintet. It’s nice to get another listen to “Another Kind”, which has a great, dancing quality over the opening bass line and then breaks into a complex melodic statement. Only the solo sections (and not all of them) use straight-ahead swing, for a tasty set of contrasts.

1980 was a very “Rolling Stones” point in Hubbard’s career. That is, he hadn’t released much good new music in quite a while, but he was still a stellar performer. The year saw the release of the last of his mostly miserable Columbia albums (this major label picked him up in 1974, right around the time that its real jazz trumpet star, Miles Davis, went into a self-imposed period of drugged-out silence. In 1981, Miles was back with Columbia and Hubbard -- who’d done precious little to earn Columbia’s confidence -- was OUT). So it’s great to hear the band working out so brilliantly on the loping-to-burning “First Light” from the 1971 CTI album of the same name. But the newer material -- such as “Happiness is Now” from the then-fresh Columbia farewell album, Skagly -- is subpar.

As with all Hubbard performances, there is a fine ballad, in this case Michel LeGrand’s “The Summer Knows”. Hubbard, despite his virtuosity, was always great on slower tunes. His opening cadenza is full of awesome, ripping runs, but he settles luxuriously into the melancholy melody. Childs frames him with great interest on piano, and the acoustic playing from Klein (better known these days as a producer in pop circles and as husband to Luciana Souza and ex-Mr. Joni Mitchell) is outstanding. When the band swings this ballad in the middle of Hubbard’s solo, they sound as confident and strong as a jazz quartet could.

After 1980, Freddie Hubbard would continue to play brilliantly for a period, but his bold, hard playing took a toll. He suffered a burst and then infected lip in 1992, and his art was never the same. Heart disease took him in 2008, and he suffered in his later years, financially and otherwise. It’s great, then, to get this message from Freddie’s past. Not his greatest playing, perhaps, but maybe not far off. The sound quality is hardly optimal, but so what? For an hour, Hubbard is a back, badder than pretty much any 2011 trumpeter, and seems fully alive.

Pinnacle comes by its title at least half-fairly. It’s a slice of what made him great at a time when everything was still possible and when he could draw on all his best stuff. Michael Jordan in the mid-‘90s, dropping an easy 50 points on the Knicks, if you will. Gone but not forgotten.






A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.


Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.


PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.


'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.


Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.


Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.


Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.


The Flaming Lips Reimagine Tom Petty's Life in Oklahoma on 'American Head'

The Flaming Lips' American Head is a trip, a journey to the past that one doesn't want to return to but never wants to forget.


Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.


Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.


Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" Is an Ode for Unity in Troubling Times (premiere)

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" is a gentle, prayerful tune that depicts the heart of their upcoming album, Crucible.


'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.


Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.


Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.


Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.


The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.