Understandably, the obituaries and appreciations for trumpeter Freddie Hubbard are concentrating on three points in his career: his swaggering, bravura performances with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers; his Zelig-like appearances on two of the cornerstones of the avant-garde, Ornette Coleman's Free Jazz and John Coltrane's Ascension; and the commercial (if not always artistic) high-water marks with CTI.
Overlooked in that timeline are Hubbard's years with Atlantic Records in the second half of the '60s – a period that I was introduced to on a terrific two-LP set called The Art Of Freddie Hubbard. Like his closest peer, Lee Morgan, Hubbard found himself with one foot in hard bop and another in freer music that was heavily influenced by the Black Consciousness movement. For Hubbard, that played out on tracks like "Black Soldier" from the album Sing Me A Song of Songmy, which featured him reciting words by Turkish poet Fazil Husnu Daglarca accompanied by a string orchestra and some processed electronics. More predictably, he also worked with genre-spanning sidemen like Bennie Maupin, Carlos Garnett and Freddie Waits, as well as a tight quintet sparked by Kenny Barron and Louis Hayes.
To fully appreciate Hubbard's range, consider for a moment the stylistic ground he covered in just 10 years – 1963-73 – and try to think of another artist who stretched so far without sacrificing his own signature voice. A giant to be sure, which makes the last 25 years of his life all the sadder.