Freddie Hubbard: Breaking Point (1964) Blue Note/Liberty

LJC-Michael-Caine- Professor Jazz fastshow30Tying up some loose ends in the discography of important figures in Modern Jazz, I found I had neglected some albums because either I wasn’t convinced of their merit or the pressing wasn’t satisfactory, or in some cases both.

However in the interests of completeness, an occasional post to stir the pot, one in which Freddie Hubbard sticks one toe in the tonal, and the other “out there”, in his later Blue Note, Breaking Point. See what you make of it, its not all about me.

Freddie-Hubbard-Breaking-Point-cover-1920-LJC

Selection 1: D Minor Mint

Selection 2: Mirrors (Joe Chambers)

Artists

Freddie Hubbard (trumpet) James Spaulding (alto saxophone, flute) Ronnie Mathews (piano) Eddie Khan (bass) Joe Chambers (drums) Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, May 7, 1964

Music

There is a saying that if you can’t say something nice, it is better to say nothing at all. Once again, some rules need to be broken. While we all wish for the “good stuff”, Hubbard’s Blue Note title  Breaking Point  is something of a mixed bag, not Hubbard’s finest album, but then again not without merit. So I’ll post on it regardless.

There is outstanding playing here by Hubbard himself: assured, modal in mood, a beautiful burnished tone, and there are more than a few tracks here to savour. However, the title track Breaking Point is not one. Hubbard climbs on the  “out there” bandwagon, something done more successfully by people with far out credentials like Jackie McLean and Grachan Moncur III. The mood is angular and dark, goody-goody, but segues into a “calypso-break”, a faux contraste device  which I find inexplicably annoying.

After being spoiled by Hubbard’s earlier Blue Note  brass partners (Tina Brooks, Hank Mobley and Wayne Shorter) James Spaulding is unremarkable in my view and flutes rather too much. The only flute welcome on my turntable is Dolphy.  However the combination of Mathews, Khan and Chambers is rock solid. Pianist Ronnie Mathews (NYT obituary 2008) was “noted for his harmonic acuity, his imagination as an improviser and his sensitivity as an accompanist” all of which applies to his presence here, and Joe Chambers was recently promoted to my “should listen to more of” list.

From previous experience I tread carefully, as this may be someone’s favourite Hubbard, but on reflection, not essential Hubbard, in contrast with these bop-period must-haves:

Going Up ( Blue Note 1960)
Open Sesame   (Blue Note 1960)
Ready for Freddie (Blue Note 1961 – future post)
Hub Cap (Blue Note 1961)
Hub-tones (Blue Note 1962)
Here to Stay (Blue Note unissued 1962)
The Artistry of Freddie Hubbard (Impulse 1962)
Blue Spirits (Blue Note 1965)
The Night of The Cookers (Blue Note 1965)

Beyond here, Hubbard jumped ship to Atlantic (Backlash 1966, High Pressure Blues 1968) and then CTI (Red Clay 1970 Polar AC 1975 ) the more Columbia (Liquid Love, The Love Connection, and similar, I’ll pass on). Any you think merit attention, chip in.

Vinyl: BST 84172 Division of Liberty (re-issue, late ’60s)

A Liberty reissue from the late ’60s, and having recently sung the praises of Division of Liberty, an example of what can go wrong, a cautionary tale. Though early Liberty (1966/7) were an excellent near-equivalent to Blue Note, not all Division of Liberty are equal. Towards the end of its four year tenure of the Blue Note label, Liberty issues were compromised and in some cases quality suffered.

These are all signs of “bad Liberty”, as opposed to “good Liberty”:

The first thing that should set alarm bells ringing is the absence of a VAN GELDER stamp. This reissue has been anonymously re-mastered by an outpost of Liberty, not RVG, and not authentic Blue Note metal-ware. The matrix etching is faint and all but illegible.

A second clue is the label print. Not a Keystone-printed Blue Note and early Liberty, the colours are dark navy blue and off-yellow cream, and the ® below NOTE is malformed, lacking clean separation between the R and its circle, and the text is heavily inked. This label is printed elsewhere not to standard, which ties in with it being re-mastering.

Lastly (a bit of guesswork), the vinyl, which should be shiny rich black, is instead  milky, streaked with whitish stains, possibly an extender to reduce cost?

Freddie-Hubbard-Breaking-Point-labels-1920-LJC

Freddie-Hubbard-Breaking-Point-back-1920-LJC

Collector’s Corner

An example of what goes on below the water line in the murky world of re-issues, as well to be aware of.

None of the above telltale signs were familiar to me at the time, none regarding the vinyl were mentioned  by the Ebay seller. The absence of the VAN GELDER stamp would have been a warning, but sellers are not obliged to point out what is not there. Caveat Emptor, I should have asked.

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18 thoughts on “Freddie Hubbard: Breaking Point (1964) Blue Note/Liberty

  1. I know it’s an old one but appreciate the candid review. This is one I recently considered buying (the cheap newish reissue) at my LRS. But I know in the past, when I’ve listened to this one digitally, I’ve just never found it that enjoyable. My appreciation for Hubbard and the label, and truly the players added here (I think I like Spaulding a lot more than you do from the sound of it, a rare flute I can live with but would rather have his alto any day) had me almost buying this a few times now. But I agree with most everything you say; in the end, I just don’t think it’s a very good record.

    Bonus: It’s also, in part, the reason I think Lee Morgan ranks above Hubbard in the all-time list for trumpets. In my opinion, Morgan never made a bad record. They’re all great to extent or another. Can’t say the same for Hubbard – who’s got some real clunkers in his discography. You could say Hubbard is the victim of just a longer lifespan – but when consider this is Hub’s ’64 album, Morgan did “Search For The New Land” in the same year – a stone classic.

    Anyways. Thanks for the rec. I’ll probably pass.

  2. LJC’s two track selections have sold this one to me and I’ll be adding the CD to my collection in due course- although I’m aware that other tracks may not be on a par with these two.
    I enjoy Freddie Hubbard’s playing both as a leader and as a sideman and of the 8 or 9 of his sets that I currently have, the only one that I find disappointing is ‘The Night of the Cookers’. I approached his CTI years with caution but Red Clay and, perhaps even more so, Straight Life, are engaging sessions, featuring Joe Henderson and other stellar musicians

    • I second the CTI recommendations, and say no caution necessary: they’re recorded and mastered by Rudy Van Gelder and are incredibly cheap and available.

      Red Clay and Straight Life are indeed the standout titles, superb post bop dates both. I confess to a soft spot for Keep Your Soul Together too, though we’re very much getting into jazz-funk territory now.

      Given the prices, I’d even recommend Sky Dive and the live date with Stanley Turrentine – the two versions of ‘Povo’ alone are worth getting them for. Dodgy, dodgy version of the Godfather theme on Sky Dive though. Ugh!

  3. To add to the poly-sleeve debate, I always worked on the idea that it was PVC outer covers that caused the damage, not poly inners. I know this was the case at the BBC gramaphone library. In my experience it is exclusively poly inners supplied with records pressed by Polygram (Polydor etc) in the late sixties/early seventies that seem to damage records, they go ‘sticky’ over time. I read somewhere (maybe here) that it was because Polygram put the records in wet at the factory. Lots of records I’ve bought, spanning many genres and decades have factory supplied poly lined inners and have suffered no ill effects (UK and US pressings). It was standard practise for classical records and I can’t think of one that has fogged. I used to use Nagaoka sleeves but have turned to Goldring in recent times as they are easier to use.

  4. great info and discussion. For listening purposes I’d recommend “The Hub of Hubbard”, an off-contract(?) release with 3 from the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis band who were evidently on tour at the time, and drummer Louis Hayes, who’s never sounded quite like he does on this, before or since, and for reasons that shall remain a mystery. Freddie at his most relaxed, least constricted best (for me, at least). “Without a Song” is a similar recording, shared tunes, pure, unadulterated Freddie.

  5. There is a sweet New York USA deep groove mint mono copy selling on eBay for $299.99 “Buy It Now.” The seller is out of Chicago and has a 100% feedback rating on a posted 4k plus sales. $100 is the highest I have ever paid for vintage vinyl; but really wish I could have this copy. I would bet it sounds fabulous on mono. I will watch it in the coming months. Maybe the seller will come to his senses and auction it as a best price option.

  6. Great review and Great session. I am listening to it now. A funky dark blue label copy. Wish I could find something close to an original issue.

    Freddie never forgot the blues. And often when the changes in the tune suggested he could.

  7. My experience with milky vinyl is oxidation caused by exposure to the cardboard jacket, ie, stored sleeveless for sometime. The acids in the non acid free carboard cause the milky vinyl over time. I’d guess that the poly sleeves might have a similar effect where the plastic leeches to the vinyl.

    I’ll need to dig through my instagram feed but I have an excellent example of cardboard causing vinyl discoloration. The record was stored in a rice paper sleeve which had torn and folded onto itself, exposing parts of the record (an Emarcy title if I recall correctly) to the jacket cardboard. The protected vinyl had all the lustre of a new record, the exposed vinyl had the foggy, milky look you describe. The perfectly folded crease served as the boundry between them. The visuals are startling.

  8. Hubbard’s 3 releases on Atlantic are all phenomenal examples of later complex hard bop (post-bop to some…) and are more than deserving of some of your allotted listening time.

  9. You’ve been busy, LJC. Hmm, Hubbard. I often find Freddie a touch strident and ‘hot’ and prefer him as sideman rather than leader. Hutcherson’s DIALOGUE, Dolphy’s LUNCH and (a touch less) on Oliver Nelson’s BLUES & THE ABSTRACT TRUTH, for instance.

    I’m listening to the title track from this (to me) entirely unfamiliar LP, and it is a bit of a, er, dog’s breakfast, isn’t it? Hubbard seems pointlessly strident, Spaulding prolix.

    Could the milkiness you remark on in the vinyl simply be polythene bag residue / ‘filming’? If — as i suppose will be the case — it has already had a thorough VPI/Moth treatment, then it must be something else, but that milkiness is something i have seen on records that have spent a long time in polythene-based inner sleeves.

    • re alunsevern’s point on polythene residue. it does not remove with a cleaning machine. I had a few 60’s polydor’s with this issue, nothing removes it. An irreversable chemical process has occurred, a swishing sound is heard when played. Vinyl is more than one recipe, the two issues are from different recipes I suspect.
      I will go back and have a re-listen to this. I almost feel done with Blue Notes, having listened to them for 30 years, I get more pleasure from newer music these days, but a few of the modal and further out lps still work for me.

      • I’m familiar with polythene inner liner effect on vinyl, seen it a few times. This particular discoloration is not visible in the grooved area, just the vinyl land, but it’s a possible explanation. I haven’t seen polythene inners in use during US Liberty era, but you never know about people swapping around inner sleeves over time. I’m told the real menace of polythene is the residue can transfer onto your stylus tip.

        All my records are treated to a Nagaoka-type new archival quality inert mylar inner sleeve, and a fresh paper outer sleeve. It can be a faff, as Alun knows, but you don’t know what’s lurking inside an old inner bag. I had a case where a rogue metal staple inside the sleeve needlessly wrecked a lovely LP. No chances taken since.

        • I have had Liberty eras Blue Notes in polythene inners, LJC – one of the reasons it occurred to me. Perhaps they weren’t original issue poly sleeves – i can’t remember.

          The new anti-static Nagoka style liner in a fresh paper sleeve is now my standard practice too (courtesy your detailed instructions!), but I must admit I ‘triage’: beautiful, expensive-ish records get the full treatment; lesser LPs just get the fresh paper sleeve. “Because you’re….not quite worth it….” I whisper to them, gently…

    • While all of you gush over your inner sleaves, I’ll get back to the music. Alun, I concur about preferring Freddie as a side man – his intensity can be a bit overwhelming. I was thinking that Hancock’s “Maiden Voyage” is my favorite Hubbard. In fact, one of my all time favorite records.

      • You’re right there. I bought the MM33 of VOYAGE recently and took to it afresh — Hubbard’s subtle, cooler playing is a revelation and perfectly attuned to Hancock’s limpid piano style. It is a terrific record.

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