“Poisson d’Avril” put to bed, LJC navigates the turn of the ’60s/’70s decade, where modern jazz slides into electric jazz-rock fusion, with flagship of the genre, Freddie Hubbard’s Red Clay. A transition not only in musical style, but demands on sound engineers. Warning: contains mixed opinions, make yours known.
Selection: Red Clay
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Freddie Hubbard, trumpet; Joe Henderson, tenor sax & flute; Herbie Hancock, Fender Rhodes electric piano & Hammond organ; Ron Carter, electric & acoustic bass; Lenny White, drums. Recorded Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, January 27, 28 & 29, 1970. Cover photo by Price Givens, album design by Tony Lane, produced by Creed Taylor.
For Joe Henderson, Red Clay seems business as usual, not Eddie Harris electric sax, but miked tenor sax, marble hard tone and inside/outside voicings, helter-skelter figures. Hancock is still rehearsing his Head Hunters phase, purple shell suit on order, the Fender Rhodes electric piano warbling anaemically, for me lacking the rapid-fire conversation between real piano and like-minded acoustic instruments. Carter was said not to be enthusiastic about the Fender electric bass, opting sometimes for an upright electro-acoustic bass fitted with a pick-up. Lennie White is a new fusion kid on the block, no historical baggage. Hubbard however is Hubbard – warm rich full tone, effortless control and perfectly executed ideas.
Off the back of ten sizzling Blue Notes in the first half of the ’60s, Freddie signalled his trajectory away from bop in 1966, importing soul, funk and rock elements aimed at a broader audience (read: bigger audience) , and embracing a walk-on cast of new electronic instruments.
At the outset were titles for Atlantic, notably Backlash and High Pressure Blues, arriving at CTI in 1970 with six albums between 1970-4, starting with the flagship title of the genre, Red Clay, through to Polar – AC.
Consisting largely of blues-based modal tracks at heart, Red Clay offers theatrical openings, memorable heads and choruses and plenty of space for hot soloing from a star cast willing to ride the new electric train. In a 1978 interview for Down Beat, Hubbard spoke about the origin of the title track, “Red Clay.” (cited in a 1978 doctoral paper at California U., Long Beach)
According to Freddie,” ‘Red Clay’ was about a woman who lived beneath us in Indianapolis and her old man. In Indianapolis we lived across the street from the oil company where Wes Montgomery used to have a day job. It’s a weird neighborhood, hardcore, a silhouette. But it was good, because I could always hear those guys playing guitar on their back porches.
Anyway, this guy and his women were outside, fighting. At the same time I heard this guy playing stuff on his guitar, like Brownie McGhee. Then the man put his woman in the garbage can and put the lid on it. After that, and hearing those blues, I came up with the bass line…”
It was not, as I assumed, about terracotta pottery classes. The tune was laid over the chord changes of the 1966 hit “Sunny” by Bobby Hebb, written about his murdered older brother Sonny, a song covered by so many artists that it ranked number 25 in BMI’s Top 100 Songs of the Century, though I didn’t make the connection myself. Later in life, Freddie declared “Red Clay” was ‘the tune that’s been keeping me alive for the last 30 years’ and always credited it as “Sunny”.
If Carter and Henderson were old hands, the young drummer Lenny White was just turning twenty when Freddie called him for the Red Clay date. Lenny’s fusion star had been on the rise since his place on Miles Davis Bitches Brew session but he revealed in an interview later, Freddie’s first call had been to old hand Anthony Williams, an invitation redirected to Lenny by Williams, who was concerned about Miles’ anticipated reaction: lending his best drummer to another trumpet-player maybe not a good idea. If you follow the story, Ron Carter advised White to change his bass drum to a more studio-friendly piece of kit, something White always regretted, you be the judge.
Vinyl: CT 6001 STEREO VAN GELDER
Requiring three full days of studio time at Englewood Cliffs, I speculate the whole album was not an effortless production. For over a decade Van Gelder had been the architect of The Blue Note Sound, capturing moving air, wringing every nuance out of acoustic instruments with close-miking and letting the dials run hot. If musicians were, of commercial necessity, moving their playing onto electronic instruments, you wonder what impact this had on Van Gelder’s vision for sound engineering ? Put away the marvellous Neumann U47s, plug the Fender Rhodes and bass straight into the mixer, go make a cup of coffee?
Until now the VAN GELDER stamp assured the optimum quality of what you are about to hear. In these CTI electric albums I hear a move away from the intimacy of acoustic analogue recording. Perhaps it was inevitable that with an electric ensemble and multitrack recordings, some of Van Gelder’s distinctive recording methods fell by the wayside, and there would be a convergence, in which Van Gelder’s output would begin to sound much the same as any other top flight studio, all with the same electronic instrument sources, plugged into the mixer.
The engineering balance and mixing is still top flight, half the line up is nominally still acoustic, but for me, the CTI Sound has lost some of the Blue Note Van Gelder magic. The rise of electric fusion did not just shift musical direction, it led in some ways to the demise of “musicians in the room” the experience. And with the arrival of Don Sebesky orchestral arrangements on some of Hubbard’s subsequent CTI titles, suddenly you’ve got twenty four musicians in the room. The floor just can’t take it!
Wonderful picture of Freddie on the back of the gatefold, I can hear that note. That looks like what Red Clay sounds like: trumpet-smokin’ goodness, no Health Warning required.
There is a big story attached to the acquisition of a suite of Hubbard CTI albums, but before I launch into it, I’d like to check out the interest among readers in ’70s electric jazz-rock fusion genre, or whatever you want to call it.
I know it’s controversial in some quarters, like among purist Blue Note be-boppers, and I’m not one for almost anything ’80s or beyond, so you definitely need to go elsewhere for jiggy grime-infused hip-hop breakbeats, but I think the ’70s crossover movement still has some historic interest, before it turned into the mush that is “smooth jazz.” (Have I missed offending anyone?)
Please give electric jazz fusion – of the variety posted here today, and I include Miles electric phase and perhaps Weather Report, you get the drift, taken as a whole – a simple five point spread “Like” score. Poll open for one week, one vote only, no ID required, citizens of Saturn especially welcome, you can vote simply by producing a outer space driving license…
Check back often to find out if you are in or out with the In-Crowd.
I have mixed feelings about this period, but I decided some time ago that LJC would be a broad church, the big picture, and all opinions are welcome. . Any thoughts in particular about Freddie’s CTI period, your opportunity to share them here, good, bad or indifferent, I’m sure you have something to say, comment is free.
True Confessions: I arrived at acoustic backwards from electric origins. I have boxes of 80s fusion in the loft. GRP, Lee Ritenour, David Sanborn, Jazz Crusaders, Joe Sample, Brecker Brothers, Dave Grusin, Bob James, Yellow Jackets, Spyrogyra, I could go on, and on, and on… I wait to see if it comes back into fashion. So far, no sign. Hold or Fold?
Thanks for this fantastic resource.
I am a much more informed record collector due to your efforts.
Do you have any info regarding the vinyl quality of original CTI pressings?
I have the ORG Red Clay which sounds great, but I see lots of original CTI’s going for cheap and they have nice glossy gatefolds which are absent from the reissues.
I think it’s hard for the jazz fusion fashion to come back. BUT I confess that I’m very happy with this post with Red Clay from Freddie Hubbard. Hopefully others will come. Lately I’ve been listening to quite a few current jazz musicians such as Kamasi Washington, Christian Scott and Robert Glasper and I still consider Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock with a jovial sound today. I agree with the others comments that the CTI are the best fusion phase of Hubbard. (sorry for my english, I’m from Brazil)
no Fusion in the past, not today nor in the future. I was in my early 20’s when Fusion appeared on the scene so I encountered it on a direct impact. never hooked up. all the records I bought at the time are sold, no regrets. I still keep (and love) early electric Miles up to Jack Johnson and the first Weather Report. good and enough for me. very personal opinion: having been an amateur drummer, my impression has always been negative towards Jazz drummers trying to turn into rock or funky. Lenny White’s drumming on this track is poor and simple and not at the hights of leader Hubbard. the same with Miles. does anyone remember the funky rhythm session with James Brown?
because the transition from Jazz drumming to Fusion tried to go through Funky, failing. what was good (and difficut) in Jazz techniques, had to be simplified in Fusion. listening to the (boring) complete boxes of electric Miles Davis, drumming is what suffered more to get into new directions. even great drummers couldn’t be at ease. remember that Miles liked James Brown a lot, as well as Sly and the Family Stone. not for Melody or Harmony, but for Rhythm. anyway this is my personal opinion only.
Regarding “hold or fold” the 80s/90s GRPish stuff, unless its of sentimental value, I’d fold. (Not that I didn’t own a few of those, myself.) I think the “smooth jazz” market crash of the mid-90s was probably permanent. Unlike the easy listening stuff that was rebranded as “lounge” for a minute in the mid/late 90s, I don’t think the stuff you mentioned was kitschy enough to make a comeback. And the production on so much of it was so sterile and trendy that I think it will sound forever dated.
First time I’ve listened again to this style of jazz in about 30 years. Oh dear! It hasn’t aged well imho. Not even Van Gelder could save it. Sounds like everyone was on auto pilot.
Another compelling read, thank you. I have a growing record collection of about 370 records collected over the last 14 months and the only reason that I have a slowly developing Jazz section is the fantastic and inspiring blogs that I read here. I only discovered the site as I was looking for some advice on record cleaning and what I found here has been the foundation of how I clean and look after my records.
Through LJC I have discovered Ben Webster, Milt Jackson, Hank Mobley and of course Miles Davis and then found my own way to George Duke, Harold Land and Grover Washington Jr. On first listening to the album it sounds brilliantly creative and interesting and strangely still current but what got me to listen in the first place as ever was the story. The stories of these recordings and the musicians who made then are what gets me hooked…
I appreciate that I am probably in the minority but as you asked, I’d love more of this kind of thing.
Regarding your True Confession that sure is some good quality stuff! But you have to be picky to get their best stuff on the platter. And maybe also since you have upgraded the stereo setup so much you would be in for a surprise if you put some of it on the TT now. Try Spyro Gyras Morning Dance that is exceptionally well recorded or George Bensons Give Me The Night (a Quincy Jones/Bruce Swedien production) or Crusaders Street Life – Pure Vinyl Bliss!
I like fusion – a lot! But as in any genre there is good stuff and not so good stuff IMO. It also depends on your personal taset of course. I like my fusion to be melodic, harmonic and not too far out. So in my book I’d rather listen to Return to Forevers Romantic Warrior or Hancocks Headhunters that Bitches Brew. I listened a lot to fusion before I fell in love with the classic jazz of the 50s and 60s that I mostly listen to today. But there sure was some good stuff released in the 70s that still works today. Freddie Hubbard on CTi is certainly on of those.
Fusion is like most jazz, it can be sublime (the three epic lps of Jaco, the 1970 Zawinul Atlantic, side 2 of I sing the body electric for examples) and it can be awful (the majority of it beyond a few key figures and bands, most of whom played with Miles). And do we mean the stuff fused with rock drumming only, or stuff fused with African or Asian playing. Because in that second camp lies some beauties. Red Clay though, is a good shout for his last great album, after having had a very strong 60’s.
Sorry, meant the CTI trilogy it is in the centre of is the last great set of albums by him for me.
Thanks for the input, Mark.
Ethno-jazz was an interesting development, turn of the decade. Personally, I find the Indo-jazz Fusion of late ’60s/ early ’70s hasn’t worn well. Joe Harriot John Mayer Indo-Jazz Suite always strikes me as not enough jazz in the mix. ’70s found me sitting cross-legged hands together pointing to third eye at Mahavishnu concerts, not jazz so much.
Afro-jazz, what can I say? Fela Kuti and Africa 70 (the number of players I believe, not the year) , Manu Dibango, African jazz, both feet in Africa I think, as opposed to Afro-American jazz. I feel more at home with Senegal and Mali , Bamako, Super Rail Band, though I don’t think of that as inside the jazz tradition, more Griot, and praise-singing traditions of West Africa. Is there jazz we should find?
Asian-jazz , Bollywood-Jazz, I love Asha Bhosle but that also strikes me from a different singing tradition, not jazz improvisational. Am I missing out on something?
Any more views, pitch in.
Hi! I have red your Hubbard article with interest. No doubt he is one of the outstanding trumpetplayers in the history of jazz in the tradition of Eldridge, Fats Navarro and Clifford Brown. I can’t say that I’ve seen an analysis of his Atlantic albums. Talking about the Atlantic albums, I wonder if anybody has noticed that the Black Angel album (SD 1549) has a double track on the number “Spacetrack” I hear other instruments in the mix. I haven’t seen any information on this. Perhaps I am crazy? You also mention afro-jazz and question whether it can be called jazz at all. I am trying to coin the phrase “Hot Music” on the music I love, and the different types of Afro music definitely fits into that category. My favourite Congolese artist, Franco called his band “OK Jazz” . The story is that Franco went to Belgium for his education. He heard a lot of jazz there. When he returned to Zaire, the people heard that he had acquired a different sound. Franco called it jazz. I call it hot music!
I dusted of my Fela Kuti albums tonight on the strength of possible rediscovery, flipped onto the deck: afrobeat, horrid, digital sludge, unlistenable, musically torpid, mechanical, barcode, whatever was I thinking ?
Popped on instead Mingus, East Coasting on Parlophone, real music, bliss!!!
I have a soft spot for Senegalese music like yourself, but also like you do not think of it as jazz. The good stuff is from the south really, Hugh Masakela, Abdullah Ibrahim, Dudu Pukwana, Brotherhood of Breath, Bheki Mseleku. The Fela Kuti is too modern really, as there is a rich vein of High life from pre 70s that is very enjoyable, people like ET Mensah.
Excellent comments! I play trumpet and I first got into the jazz that the local jazz station played which was laced with rock elements, and by the LP’s advertised in DB during the 70s. Freddie Hubbard LIQUID LOVE,, WINDJAMMER etc. and I liked it, but then I started checking out the earlier CTI LP’s and said, “Whoa, this is the real thing!” What did I know, right? They definitely didn’t sound as commercial as the Columbia albums that the previously CTI artists went on to sign with. They were more soulful, longer grooves, elements of funk mixed with straight ahead. I remember wondering if Freddie Hubbard even knew how to play straight ahead hard bop, because I’d only heard him play the rock-tinged CTI and Columbia stuff. Then one day I happened upon a Jimmy Heath record with no cover, recorded in 1962, called “THE QUOTA, it was in Berkeley California, maybe it was Rasputin’s, and I bought it because I was so curious to hear what Freddie Hubbard sounded like back then, and after that I became addicted to all the Blue Note, Prestige, Riverside, meat and potatoes jazz of the 50’s and 60’s. But I still dig the CTI stuff, particularly because of Freddie Hubbard’s impeccable, trumpet technique which transcends all styles.
As a DJ who started collecting and spinning in the early 1990s, during the height of Acid Jazz and Rare Groove, this era of jazz definitely hits a sweet spot. It was my path to musical education, which prompted me to study jazz history in college — and that’s where I first got into Ellington, Miles, Trane. Consequently, I love 1970s fusion and funky jazz, and Red Clay was my first Freddie Hubbard album, and in the past 25 years I’ve discovered his catalog in a backwards fashion. There’s some seriously good music here, especially when you’re coming from the perspective of being utterly clueless about hard bop. I remember that at the time, I didn’t want to have anything to do with any pre-1960s jazz, and at flea markets and record shows I passed over a many Blue Note 1500 series original pressings because they didn’t bear the legendary Blue Note logo, were heavy, smelled musty, and looked simply “too old” for my taste. At one time, I picked a UA pressing of Blue Train over an original pressing because it had more of a modern appeal to me, and I didn’t get into collecting the older pressings until the late 1990s upon educating myself (some say ignorance is bliss — I disagree). But I’m getting ahead of myself so … yes, 1970s fusion jazz will always have a special place in my heart, and although I consider myself a passionate hard bop collector and prefer to listen to 1950s and early 1960s jazz these days, sometimes I pick out a Idris Muhammad or Blackbyrds or Roy Ayers album and they never disappoint. I’d love to read more about soul jazz here as well, there’s some excellent music that goes beyond Grant Green, Jimmy Smith and Bog John Patton.
BIG John Patton. I swear I usually know how to spell.
Idris Muhammad’s “Power of Soul” is worthy of a review here I think
Completely agree, what a fantastic set.
I also came at jazz the same way but a few years earlier in the clubs of Manchester in the early 80s where Colin Curtis and Greg Wilson would spin jazz amongst soul, disco, boogie and electro and I’ve also found myself listening backwards over the years. Red Clay has been a part of my repertoire since then but admittedly I don’t listen to it very much anymore.
as a listener, as we all do, i just enjoy what i enjoy. i can’t help it. for a time i was very into electric fusion, but as i began to delve more into hard bop and acoustic free stuff, i began to appreciate the organic ‘humanness’ of acoustic music that i don’t hear as much in this slightly electric-slightly acoustic 70s-80s stuff. now i’d say 90% of the jazz i listen to is entirely acoustic, with the exception of the occasional clean amplified organ or guitar.
oddly, i hear this same humanity in a lot of the classic hardcore punk of the last three decades.
First up, I have to say I’m a fan of Red Clay (also check out Mark Murphy’s vocal version). However, at the risk of swimming against the tide of opinion, this recording is only just inside the circumference of my listening circle. Going only a little further into fusion steps over my personal line of enjoyment.
But, hey, I’m all for a broad church and each of us having our own preferences.
i used to be the opposite, but these days you and i have similar opinions regarding fusion.
As a listener, I was certainly on the fusion bandwagon. Hancock’s Mwandishi records frequently visit my turntable to this day; after 40+ years I’m still excited by this amazingly dense music. I think the true value of jazz-rock fusion was to introduce the rock-n-roll generation to jazz. For many fans of rock music, I imagine that acoustic jazz was a retrospective discovery, moving backwards from the 70’s to the 50’s. Personallly, I heard these amazing fusion musicians (Shorter, Hancock, Williams, Hubbard, Davis, etc.) and wanted to know what they played earlier in their careers. Next thing I realize I’m buying labels like Riverside, Blue Note, Verve, ECM, and Impulse.
I appreciate and listen to jazz fusion. The music of the First Light (1971) is particularly clear and rich in textures. Keep your soul together (1973) is my favorite and I find some pleasure in listening even the more rated and criticized: Windjammer (1976). Put back some things that today are considered kitch or dated, like the cover or one more version of Feelings… I always find something to appreciate, like the Freddie tone, the bass, or even the up attitude… something to go more further than the standard criticism.
Most the ’70s fusion I was so obsessed with as a high schooler in the ’80s was more toward the rock side, I suppose, which meant a major emphasis on guitar and/or bass. Naturally then, I was heavily into Return to Forever, Al Di Meola, Stanley Clarke, Jaco, and Jean-Luc Ponty. I’m pretty sure only Stanley Clarke included horns in his arrangements back then, if I’m not mistaken.
“Later in life, Freddie declared “Red Clay” was ‘the tune that’s been keeping me alive for the last 30 years’ and always credited it as “Sunny”. [SNIP]
I can hear that quote of ‘Sunny’ in Freddie’s trumpet solo in my head as I type this.
‘Red Clay’: Not only the very best CTI recording of Creed Taylor’s [& why no mention of him?], but, also…
a StoneColdClassic TM.
Thanks for the ‘broad church’, LJC.
Present at the creation:
That’s a good Hancock story. Here’s a link for some related essential listening: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=lkwluLsP364
“Harmonically, the use of pedal point and bass ostinatos became the only reference points for a tonal center. Repetitive ostinatos in the bass were combined with repetitive melodic riffs and phrases. This multi–level repetition created form through rhythmic cycles. Chord progressions were gradually eliminated. Consequently the melodic–harmonic tension relied on the players’ abilities to improvise over the pedal point and against each other…”
That’s real music talk, I like it!
When Red Clay was released I was becoming of age in the 70s, and was a young trumpet player in a rock with a penchant for anything jazz. I was initiated on Red Clay and played the grooves off of my copy. I worked my way back to Miles Davis. No other trumpet players much mattered to me during that period. Miles and Freddie were like gods to me. I learned all Freddie’s licks listening to Red Clay. Same with Miles, listening to KOB.
Anyway, the point I want to make is one can’t discount Freddie’s CTI stuff and call oneself complete. I saw Freddie in the 90s at Blues Alley, a club in Georgetown, Washington DC; still open by the way. I was close enough in the audience to politely ask him to play Red Clay. He reluctantly, I believe, agreed to play it with a quartet which included McCoy Tyner. He had just finished playing Joy Spring – killed it, but the band struggled on Red Clay, as did Hubbard. His chops were clearly going. Broke my heart.
I know this is not the point of your blog LJC, but Freddie was one of greatest jazz trumpet players to ever put his lips to a mouth piece in my opinion. I remember him telling the audience that very same night, jazz musicians like himself had to cross over to play fusion and rock to just afford a Chevy. So, this stuff is important too, just like his early BN recordings. Thanks for what you do Brother.
I was in “Rock Band” for clarification. Geez, I should do more editing before hitting the post button.
The intimacy may be gone but it’s more than compensated by sheer electrified excitement