FREDDIE HUBBARD — First Light (review)

FREDDIE HUBBARD — First Light album cover Album · 1971 · Fusion Buy this album from MMA partners
5/5 ·
A classic in Freddie Hubbard's discography.

Creed Taylor's CTI Label got a hard time from jazz purists for being too commercial, and for its role in the development of 'smooth jazz.' In particular the string arrangements of Don Sebesky would come under fire.

In 1971 with 'First Light' however, Sebesky's arrangements are subtle and effective, adding much to the more lyrical numbers especially, but also providing haunting moments on the impressive title track.

As with many of the greatest jazz albums, a fine leader is supported by a great cast of backing musicians, two especially who shine, are DeJohnette on the drums and Benson on guitar. It is a large cast (also including Hubert Laws on flute and Arito Moreira on percussion) and Hubbard is superb with them. In fact, it's wonderful to hear him present a mix of relaxed and energetic soloing across the songs.

Title track 'First Light' itself leads off the album and does so with stylish blend of energy and a laid back groove, with some nice soloing from Hubbard and Benson. Hubbard is at times strident and at times happy to leave space with his phrasing, while Benson is in fine form, playing nimble and employing a smooth tone. The Paul McCartney cover, 'Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey' is reworked into a punchy track with DeJohnette stealing the show a little, and Hubbard blasting away.

For the second side of the record, we have the more romantic numbers, where Hubbard takes on songs like 'Lonely Town' from the musical 'On the Town' or Mancini's film noir-inspired 'Moment to Moment.' Most ably assisted by Sebesky's strings and other arrangements, this half of the album is quite meditative and acts as a soothing balm.

The conviction of the playing throughout is the key to this album, which, at first glance, is quite mellow, but has some fire in the opening two tracks. I imagine Hubbard to have gone in to these sessions and decided that 'I don't need to prove anything to anyone' and gone ahead and made an album he really wanted to make. 'First Light' is known as one of his personal favourites and the album is definitely in my top ten. In fact, Hubbard himself says about the album "I didn't have to play that many notes, I didn't have to rack my brains, and it still came out as a meaningful album. I believe that's one of the reasons people got to it, also, because I put more feeling into that album than any other before."

If you are adverse to strings in jazz, then sample this album first. If you're already fan of Hubbard for either his balladry or his moxy, and don't have this one yet, then go for it. You won't be disappointed, as coming off the funky 'Straight Life,' his solos are hot. Five Stars from me.
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