Like Blood, Sweat & Tears, Freddie Hubbard first made musical history by resisting the fashions of the late '60s. Freddie had challenged the far-out expectations of the Coltrane era by blowing funk in the clubs, just as BS&T had practically scandalized worshippers of psychedelic guitar by featuring horns in a rock band. Both, in fact, anticipated the present course of jazz and rock and both have now released albums that suggest the fate of the conventions they helped to produce.
If Hubbard's High Energy registers the failure of jazz's attempted rebirth through funk, BS&T's Mirror Image shows that horn rock, by contrast, has quietly resolved itself into a high commercial craft. Unlike rave bands like Tower of Power, the newest BS&T seems at home with the pop conventions that structure its sound. Hubbard, on the other hand, appears frustrated with the contemporary jazz platitudes of which his new album is composed: cool electric piano and smooth horn lines; formulaic soloing and indifferent melodies; all played with excruciating deliberation over obligatory rock polyrhythms.
Both Freddie's funk and Al Kooper's horns had been responses to crisis conditions in jazz and rock. Hubbard had discovered before most jazzmen (aided perhaps by his studies with Sonny Rollins) that the bugaloo beat could at once liberate jazz from the smothering memory of Coltrane's achievement and accomodate it to the dizzying popular success of rock and roll. Jazz, after all, had been losing more of its audience with every advance Coltrane made; just as young jazzmen found themselves losing personal identity in the profound mourning that followed Coltrane's death later on. Hendrix's death three years after Coltrane's was only the symbol for a like situation in rock (though with reverse commercial results): imitations of revolutionary genius led nowhere. Besides - and worst of all - there was nowhere left to go. If Parker had given jazz a new place to start, Coltrane, on the other hand, left future musicians hardly anything to finish. It was Miles, of course, who codified the rockification of jazz with its conventions of cool, chord-drenched funk that Freddie has already begun playing to the amazement, and often to the embarrassment, of club audiences accustomed to avant garde.
Kooper seems to have reached an insight like Hubbard's at about the same time. Though there was to be no event in rock so singly revealing as the reaction within jazz to Coltrane's death (Hendrix's death as late as 1970 failed in itself to affect the now-complacent rock community), Kooper understood, like Cream soon after, that deafening guitar acrobatics were far from the path of rock's continued health. Kooper, you'll remember, had a headful of Danny Kalb at the time. Hence the first BS&T album - tune-oriented and short-soloed - which pushed the ensemble sound to the front and the guitar (now safe in the hands of Steve Katz) to the back.
BS&T's initial commercial success, however, coincided with Kooper's departure and the band's reformation under organist-trombonist Dick Halligan and altoist Fred Lipsius, former musical director of the dining-room band at Miami Beach's Fontainebleu Hotel. Kooper's mildly ironic and passing use of older jazz cliches became a permanent and naive feature of the second Blood, Sweat, & Tears, the money band that toured Eastern Europe for the State Department behind the prince of slush rock, David Clayton-Thomas. The emergence of a new unit later on (with Katz retaining his sinecure and the indispensable Bobby Colomby still on drums) represented a return to more contemporary jazz assumptions. But the jazzmen hired by the band's corporate leadership were themselves part of the jazz scene exhausted by reaction to Coltrane's death. The survival retreat sounded by Kooper had come full circle: rock's problem's had turned into those of jazz.
Hence new frontment Jerry Fischer and Jerry LaCroix, plus guitarist George Wadenius - all polished rockers whose addition to horn and rhythm sections staffed by jazzmen has brought to the band a hip balance of styles. Jazz skills find lucid outlets in the strong melodic context of the new album's songs. The tunes succeed because they're based, rather frankly it seems, on soul models whose own roots lie in R&B's old marriage of jazz sophistication with blues and gospel feeling. Patricia Cosby and Sharon Brown's "Love Looks Good on You," for example, features a Motown melody with a style of arranging that producer Henry Cosby may well have learned from Sigma Sound in Philadelphia.
Fischer and LaCroix's exceedingly derivative singing fails to become offensive because both vocalists showcase the scrupulous manipulation of convention which seems to be the object of the album's craft. Two-bar vocal trades apres the O'Jays, for example, knit the delivery of Wadenius's "Are You Satisfied?" No less than six combinations of writers have contributed songs; a fair reflection of the shifting series of bags - from Chicago-cops and pop rock generally to Corean jazz and heavy guitar leads - which compose the album's various moods.
Freddie Hubbard, on the other hand, seems no longer at home with the funk he espoused so passionately in the late '60s. If the new BS&T has recovered the ensemble emphasis of rock through a frank use of convention, Freddie has failed in his turn to create new confidence for the jazz soloist with the once-inspiring funky groove. While the self-conscious use of pop conventions now informs rock, it's precisely the rock convention itself that now embarrasses jazz.
The solos on High Energy (a nostalgic title, to be sure) display an appalling lack of ideas, as though there were no ideas left to express. None of the musicians, least of all Hubbard himself, seem to want to play anything at all. You can even hear Freddie lose belief in solo phrase as he plays it, growling pointlessly at the close of Stevie Wonder's "Black Maybe" or adding superfluous echo on Stevie's "Too High" in an effort to veil his lack of conviction. The famous warm trumpet is all tone now, though even the rich vibrato often seems as embarrassed a move as the blues scales themselves. Freddie's tune, "Crisis," is an all-around emblem for the album: it performs its title by framing a swinging bridge between funk choruses as though to illustrate how traditional jazz feeling has been squeezed by the rock imperative. When the swing channel comes around, the rhythm section, like Junior Cook's tenor, seems unwilling to indulge in the groove; fearful perhaps that they'll relax or even corn it up, though the fear of corn is most apparent during the funk sequences themselves.
Pianist George Cables' soloing is less wooden than Hubbard's or Cook's, though the need to punch out the funk feeling is clearly frustrating. Cables' two compositions, "Camel Rise" and "Ebony Moonbeams" are the album's most interesting original tunes even if they fail, like the other heads, to provide an inspiring vehicle for solos. Like "Crisis," the title "Ebony Moonbeams" suggests that these settings represent a twilight time for jazz.
Besides Freddie's pair of middling funk compositions - nothing to match, say, "Red Clay" - the album features versions of two Stevie Wonder tunes whose durable lines stand almost too high against the quintet's originals. Freddie assembled a large back-up group of percussionists, rhythm players and hornmen to augment the quintet at the live Hollywood sessions which make up the album. Like the big electric bands at Miles' funk dates, the detailed back-up means to texture the ensemble, while, instead, it registers jazz's declining belief in the sacrament of the solo itself.
Originally published in Crawdaddy, October, 1974