Freddie Hubbard - "A Little Night Music"

Freddie Hubbard • A Little Night Music • 1983 • Fantasy F-9626
Recorded November 29, 1981 at Keystone Korner, San Francisco

The Selection:

The Players:

Freddie Hubbard - Trumpet, Flugelhorn
Joe Henderson - Tenor Saxophone
Bobby Hutcherson - Vibraphone
Billy Childs - Piano
Larry Klein - Bass
Steve Houghton - Drums

The Tracks:

A1. Bird Like
A2. Sky Dive (Part 1)
B1. Sky Dive (Part 2)
B2. The Intrepid Fox

The Dig:

New vinyl releases from the 1980's can be a hit-and-miss proposition. They are generally digital recordings that may or may not have been mastered correctly for the LP format. I wouldn't have given this Freddie Hubbard album a second look if not for a couple of the cats that play alongside him on these live recordings - two legendary players you might have heard of before: Joe Henderson and Bobby Hutcherson. These two guys, along with Hubbard, just happen to be three of my favorite jazz artists, so at the $4 price tag, I threw it on the store's turntable and with decent playback on their cheapo setup I figured it would sound even better on my table and decided to take the plunge.

The Record:

A Little Night Music was recorded live in 1981 at the Keystone Korner in San Francisco, although it wouldn't see an official release until nearly two years later in 1983. The recording date is significant, as it follows a period of lackluster attempts at commercial recordings by Hubbard for Columbia, none of which can possibly be looked upon as highlights of his long and distinguised discography. Night Music marks a return to "genuine" jazz music for him, and the joy of reuniting with a couple of his former Blue Note cohorts in front of an appreciative audience is clear in his strong playing. Although Joe Henderson and Bobby Hutcherson had stayed truer to the jazz path during the 1970's, they both moved to the electric jazz side of the spectrum, so this date playing acoustic jazz must have also been quite satisfying for them as well. Although none of them could have known it at this point, the 1980's would find audiences wanting more classic jazz recordings, rather than the commercial soft jazz and jazz fusion that marked much of the genre's decline in the late 1970's.

 Hubbard, Hutcherson and Henderson would appear on each other's albums at various times throughout their career, but as far as I could find they didn't all play together on record until A Little Night Music. The strength and interplay of their playing is quite strong and makes for a really enjoyable outing. Yes, this is a digital recording cut to vinyl, as a result the audio is a bit flat, but we still get a sense of being in the room and the excitement of the music. 

The playing of Childs on piano, Klein on bass and Houghton on the drums are also exceptionally strong, Hubbard was known as a perfectionist when it came to his bandmates and these three youngsters clearly rise to the occasion of playing beside three legends. While they were newcomers to the scene at this point, all three would go on to have distinguished musical careers.

Keystone Korner was the center of the jazz scene in San Francisco at this time, and Hubbard had been playing there since at least 1980. His tone is strong, and he confidently leads this group through three of his classic recordings: "Bird Like" (originally titled "Birdlike"), "Sky Dive" and "The Intrepid Fox." All the tunes are long in length ("Sky Dive" is divided into two parts split between sides 1 and 2) and allow for some fiery playing and improvisation by the band.

The music from this Sunday night set, as well as the Friday and Saturday night sets that preceded it, would later be released on CD as Keystone BopVolumes 1 & 2. Both volumes are recommended listening for fans of Hubbard, Hutcherson and Henderson, and if you can find A Little Night Music for under $10 like I did then grab it up quick.

The Vinyl:

Ahh, early 1980's vinyl. Thin as can be, but if it's in good shape the sound can still be quite good. The original source recording for A Little Night Music was apparently made off the club's PA system (probably never intended for commercial release) leaving much to be desired sonically, but the copy I found is clean and quiet so it is still enjoyable. I don't have any other of these blue and purple Fantasy releases from the late 1970's or early 1980's to compare it to, but if I found some other quality jazz titles of interest on the same label this one is good enough that I would take a chance on them at the right price.

The vinyl trail-off has "F 9626 A" and "F 9626 B" hand-etched on the respective sides, along with a hand-etched stylized "P" on each side. 

The cover image appears to be nothing more than a stock image (anyone out there know if it is even a picture of San Francisco at night?), proving to me that this release may have been a quick attempt at making some easy money off the Hubbard name. Even the picture on the back cover is not of very high quality.  Granted, this style of jazz wasn't exactly flying off the shelves in 1983, so it would make sense to put it out as cheaply as possible. But, given the legendary status of the three big names involved, they could have at least taken the time for some decent liner notes. Oh well, sometimes you gotta take good music any way you can get it.

What The?

I figured the small white sticker with "F-9626" on the bottom right corner of the front cover indicated my copy was a library copy from a radio station, but when I went looking on Discogs for pressing information I noticed that the image of the cover on the site had the exact same sticker in the exact same location. It was possible I could have purchased that exact copy, but that really didn't seem likely, so I headed to eBay and, alas, all the vinyl copies there also had the sticker. A seemingly odd practice for Fantasy to partake in, but apparently they thought it necessary. Just another oddity in the world of collecting vintage vinyl.