I'm not a big fan of Latin remakes of jazz standards, but in the case of "Red Clay", which seems forever locked into its original arrangement, changes and adaptations are more than welcome. Denver percussionist Janine Santana's arrangement of the Freddie Hubbard classic effectively straddles the line between Latin and funk, splitting up the melody between short Latin grooves.The horns get the major melodic lines up front, but later, the rhythm section plays the ascending line from the B section. The rhythm's part is so well-written that the passage is well underway before the listener grasps what is happening. Trumpeter Greg Gisbert and alto saxophonist Richie Cole share the solo spotlight with Santana. Gisbert's solo is filled with unusually-shaped ideas and spectacular passages in the high register. While it sounds like he's playing into an echoplex, the sound and late echoes are all acoustic. Cole's solo, while exciting and well-played, is considerably more restrained than his wild playing from the late 70s. Santana's brief spot offers effective counter-rhythms over the churning rhythm team. Overall, a fine alternative approach to a jazz chestnut.
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This album was a new direction for Freddie Hubbard. It starts with a rubato section where once again Freddie is his Nogento
("Stanky") self. Then into a great tune with (for the genre) a quite musical and developed solo; funky but he also takes it out a bit—this was the first time I had heard him do that ascending lip trill thing. Nice arrangement with backgrounds behind the soloists. Joe Henderson also plays some great stuff. My buddies and I were excited when this come out, because we played frequently with Lenny White at jam sessions, and it felt to us like he had really ‘made it’ with this release.
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A strange but predictable thing happened to fusion during the 1970s. Corporate know-nothings decided it should have a broader commercial audience. They believed that any complicated music or material that required even a modicum of thought was noncommercial. The only way to increase sales was to sign acts that would play watered-down fusion and to ask current roster members to do the same. Many artists were more than happy to oblige. Ironically, it was this business decision that eventually led to Smooth Jazz. (Pardon me while I gag.)
Not all musicians succumbed to the industry pressure. But the nature of the jazz-rock business changed. People grew tired of the new fusion that now had a terrible sameness to it. Some even longed for acoustic jazz. Under these circumstances V.S.O.P. was formed by some of our finest jazz musicians. Each had also played an important role in fusion, but this was a back-to-basics jazz outfit presenting an acoustic mix of standards and new compositions.
V.S.O.P. (Very Special One-time Performance) was an outstanding band. Freddie Hubbard's seminal "Red Clay" – originally recorded on CTI
with both Hancock and Carter joining leader Hubbard – is reinterpreted before a knowing and appreciative Japanese audience. This is a very fine arrangement and performance. Atop a rolling Tony Williams percussion pastiche, Hubbard and Shorter hint at the melody in an opening exposition. The tune's famous bassline riff enters to applause. Hubbard and Shorter double on the melody. Fantastic stuff! Hubbard's solo is high-pitched, punchy and energetic. He finishes. Major applause erupts. Shorter is more restrained at first. Soon he is yelping. Hancock is typically lyrical during his turn, eventually leading us back to those wonderful and unforgettable Carter bass riffs.
V.S.O.P. released its previous two records in the USA. This record was initially released in Japan only. Why they did that, I don't know. But I do know it was damn good music.
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Backed by a stellar lineup, vocal stylist Mark Murphy lends his unique lyrical take to this classic Freddie Hubbard tune. A punctuated bassline by Harvie Swartz starts us off on this desert journey, accentuated by appropriate snakelike rattles from percussionist Evans, all the while backed by the accomplished horn section of David Sanborn and Michael & Randy Brecker. Don Grolnick's electric piano and Tony Puma's guitar comps mesh perfectly as Murphy's deep-timbered, jagged delivery mimics a horn more than a voice. The syncopated pace abruptly shifts with a deliciously played trumpet solo by Randy Brecker in homage to the song's composer, Freddie Hubbard. At the break, the ever-versatile Murphy scats in perfect harmony with the horn section, one more testament to this man's unique ability to scat in the tradition of great singers like Ella Fitzgerald or Jon Hendricks but with a decidedly "cool" approach. The inimitable Michael Becker takes a brief but immediately identifiable solo, followed by a Grolnick electric piano solo riff that foreshadows "Angela
," Bob James's theme song to the TV show Taxi
– by three years! Murphy's lyrics give a story to this formerly instrumental piece. After hearing his take on this song, one wonders how it was ever played without his words.
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Jazz purists prefer to remember Hubbard for his Art Blakey sideman days or his Blue Note performances, but his work for Creed Taylor’s CTI label has held up well with the passing years. “Red Clay” finds Hubbard testing the waters of the jazz-rock fusion style, so popular in the early 1970s. The trumpeter never enjoyed the crossover success of Herbie Hancock (who joins on electric piano here), but his fiery trumpet stylings made him a natural for the jazz-rock genre. The band is top-notch, the groove is irresistible, and Hubbard, 31 years old when he made this date, was at the peak of his powers.
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