If a musician’s sound, style, and manner are a reflection of his or her personality, Freddie Hubbard must have been one cocky guy. Bold, assertive, demonstrative, extravagant, and always ferociously extroverted, Hubbard’s trumpet playing announced its intentions from note one: “Listen up,” it barked, “I’ve got something to say and you’re gonna hear it.” That swagger invigorates Without a Song, a posthumous recording that captures Hubbard at a midcareer peak on a 1969 European tour. (Hubbard approved the release of the previously unheard material shortly before he died of heart failure last December.) But the performances also remind us that in addition to his superior technical gifts and dramatic flair, Hubbard called on deep reserves of knowledge and taste that tinged his extravagant runs with harmonic daring and lyrical poise. Stoked on by a band of peers — bassist Ron Carter, pianist Sir Roland Hanna, and drummer Louis Hayes — Hubbard struts his way through up-tempo pieces like “Hub Tones” and “Blues by Five” with customary vigor and panache. Few trumpeters of that time — or any time — possessed the total command of the instrument that Hubbard almost insouciantly displays. Yet when he turns to stirring readings of the ballads “The Things We Did Last Summer” and “Body and Soul,” this unashamed virtuoso also demonstrates his gorgeous round tone, firm melodicism, and unerring pacing. An untreated lip infection that seriously affected his playing unfortunately marred Hubbard’s last years. A recording like Without a Song better keeps his timeless, life-grabbing artistry in mind.
About the Writer
Steve Futterman writes the "Jazz and Standards" listings for The New Yorker.