Hubbard’s Columbia releases are more hit and miss when compared to his early hard bop peaks or his CTI output. For Taylor, he made classics like ‘First Light’ and ‘Red Clay’ which hint quite strongly where he’d end up by the mid 70s and after – up until his hard bop return in the 1980s that is – but here sadly, some of the snap and inventiveness is missing.
‘Liquid Love’ seems to occupy a space between his early CTI records and a pop-funk album with occasional hard bop solos, in some ways making for predictable 70s-era fusion. That’s not really a huge problem, it’s more so the relatively few highlights and the diffused effect that results. While his early 1970s work could easily incorporate its range of influences into a cohesive body, ‘Liquid Love’ doesn’t seem to manage the same feat. The pop cover, Maria Muldaur's ‘Midnight Oasis’ is slick but the rhythm section doesn’t really fire up even when Hubbard does, and the title track overstays its running time (despite sounding a little like a sped-up remake of ‘First Light’). ‘Put it in the Pocket’ is a little punchier and the group vocals are fun enough but I personally missed having one of Hubbard’s wonderful ballads on ‘Liquid Love’ and while ‘Yesterday’s Thoughts’ approaches that territory, the synthesiser clashes with the mood his trumpet attempts to create.
The best piece on the album has been saved for the end. ‘Kuntu’ is an African, reverb-laced fusion feast, where the band gets to display some more fire, as opposed to the fairly comfortable funk they mostly play prior. An oddly effective blend of space-hints and Latin jazz, it’s the song I return to the most, with a fantastic groove and some wilder soloing from Hubbard and band. George Gables’ keys are also given more of the spotlight on this track, with its slight Bitches Brew feel and general aggression.
How to sum this album up? Not every piece here is forgettable, but neither are individual songs going to rival his best work. If you’re a fan of the lighter blend of funk and jazz fusion then you’ll still enjoy this. However, if you’re interested in sticking to albums by Hubbard that manage a simultaneous artistic and creative highlight, then don’t rush out to find a copy of ‘Liquid Love’ just yet.