Self-deprecating to a fault, trumpeter Freddie Hubbard was the kind of artist who thought one missed note could befoul an entire solo, in the same way that a bad recording experience could muck up a record. Thus, it's not too surprising that on first listen, Hubbard disliked the live tapings from his 1969 Jazz Wave tour. It wasn't until recently — shortly before his death, in fact — that Hubbard revisited those old cassettes at the behest of jazz producer Michael Cuscuna. What the two of them exhumed was nothing short of incredible. The nine-city tour captured Hubbard at one of the high points in his career, playing with a crackerjack band that included Louis Hayes on drums, Roland Hanna on piano, and Ron Carter on bass. The setup was a fluke. Hayes and Hubbard were the essence of the band; Hanna happened to be there backing some of the other performers; Carter was a gun for hire. By some alchemy, they brought all the right elements together.
The result, Without a Song: Live in Europe 1969, is cribbed from three different concerts. It has a romantic cast, partly because Hubbard died last December, and partly because he'd peaked around that time, both in terms of musicianship and technical skill. Hubbard was writing and playing indefatigably, side-manning with people like John Coltrane and Art Blakey, and even flirting with freer forms of music. Without a Song offers only a small slice of that period. It's mostly a standards album — a fact one might attribute to the lumped-together nature of that touring band, or to the brief sets that didn't leave a ton of room for spontaneity. But Hubbard nonetheless makes each tune his own, rippling and susurrating on the ballad "Body and Soul" (which will just break your heart) and swelling the notes on "A Night in Tunisia" and Red Garland's tune "Blues by Five." From the trumpeter's perspective, it was just a freestyle. (Blue Note)
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