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October 2008

Freddie Hubbard & the New Jazz Composers Octet
On the Real Side
4Q/Times Square

Major League baseball has found ways to extend the careers of older players. First there was the pinch hitter and now, in the American League, the designated hitter. The key is to match up a PH or DH with the right team so they are good for each other. This CD is an example of that dynamic at play in jazz. A decade ago, legendary trumpeter Freddie Hubbard’s playing career seemed shot, as he’d burned out his lip and couldn’t sustain the firebrand style that had always been his trademark, especially not in the small-group format. Then he was approached by trumpeter David Weiss of the New Jazz Composers Octet, who proposed a collaboration. Thus Hubbard became the jazz equivalent of a DH, the Octet his new team.

On the Real Side is the second CD from Hubbard and the Octet featuring the member’s arrangements and/or re-workings of Hubbard’s tunes (the first was 2001’s New Colors). Hubbard, playing flugelhorn only, is one of the soloists on six of the seven tracks (he sits out on the rhythmically intricate Weiss arrangement of “Take It to the Ozone”), but the focus here is as much on the charts and the Octet, a fruitful mix of jazz elder and nascent jazz masters. Hubbard’s best-known piece, the jazz waltz “Up Jumped Spring,” is given a slowed-down, piquant arrangement by Steve Davis, with guest Craig Handy’s flute limning the melody, Davis’ trombone and Dwayne Burno’s bass following up on Hubbard’s lyrical opening solo. The title track is also the one new composition, an evocation of soul-jazz arranged by Weiss, with guitarist Russell Malone’s cameo giving it a down-home vibe.

Weiss’ other three arrangements add neat touches such as fanfares, preludes and shout choruses to tunes thoroughly in the hard-bop ballpark. Burno contributes charts to the smoother, CTI side of Hubbard’s work, exploiting the sleek rhythm and expanding the rich harmonies of “Skydive” and adding a Latinized hi-hat beat to “Gibraltar.” Tenor saxophonist Jimmy Greene, who solos elsewhere on soprano sax, breaks out on the latter, as does Norbert Stachel (the baritone saxophonist) in a torrid flute solo. Elsewhere on the CD, guest Handy also has two notable tenor solos, and there are deft contributions by Myron Walden (alto sax), Xavier Davis (piano) and drummer E.J. Strickland.

Originally published in October 2008
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