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Jazz Review : Hubbard As Vital As Ever

October 25, 1986|A. JAMES LISKA

It was standing room only and they were three deep at the bar to hear trumpeter Freddie Hubbard usher in the 20th anniversary at Donte's on Thursday evening.

Perhaps ironically, it was about 20 years ago that Hubbard, a player heavily influenced by the '50s leading trumpet man, Clifford Brown, was the jazz trumpet star (having, to some extent, replaced Miles Davis). In the '70s he was supplanted by Woody Shaw; in the '80s it's been Wynton Marsalis. But the current Hubbard, a durable and enduring jazz figure, backed by a quintet of fine young players, is as vibrant and vital a player as he was when he broke new jazz ground with Art Blakey two decades ago.

Hubbard opened his four-tune set Thursday with a Blakey chestnut, "Thermo." With the three-horn front line of trumpet, tenor sax and trombone, the sextet recalled both the patented hard-bop spirit of the Jazz Messengers and the more mellow flavor offered by the same generation's Art Farmer, Benny Golson and Curtis Fuller. Both ways--hard and fast, smooth and slack--the formula worked.

Saxophonist Bob Sheppard added a further dimension. With his outside approach and hard-edged style, he recalled the singing spirit of John Coltrane when Hubbard was in that fold. Hardly a copyest though, Sheppard showed himself to be an extraordinary talent who could have been better served than by the subsequent "Superblue," a funky rock piece by Benard Ighner. He then served up a funky plate of inconsequential solo outings.

The weak link in the post-bop chain was drummer Ralph Penland. An otherwise capable player, Penland overplayed his welcome, dashing and crashing with reckless abandon. When in his place as rhythmic accompanist, he was fine; given a free rein, he bucked and reared to no avail.

Trombonist Phil Ranelin had a particularly good moment on the closing "One of a Kind," though he misread the acoustics on "Superblue" and came off terrifically muddled. Pianist John Beasley turned in some good work throughout the set, though his synthesized moments on "One of a Kind" were superfluous to the group's efforts.

Bassist John B. Williams turned in a brilliant performance, soaring neatly and providing needed support to the group's efforts.

Hubbard was at his best on an evocative rendition of Erroll Garner's "Misty." The timeless classic gained new life and Hubbard deftly danced his way around the melody, to join spirit and new life from each note.

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