Freddie Hubbard: "Windjammer" (Wounded Bird) 1976/2009
US CD release date: June 9, 2009
First ever CD reissue of Hubbard's third album for Columbia, now available thanks to the wise guys at the Wounded Bird label. Jazz historian Douglas Payne says that it's "a Bob James album with special guest soloist Freddie Hubbard." In that sense, I would say that it's Hubbard's equivalent to Hank Crawford's "I Hear A Symphony," recorded around the same time for the Kudu label, and which sounds like "a David Matthews album with special guest soloist Hank Crawford."
Produced by Bob James with his favorite engineer Joe Jorgensen taking care of the technical aspects, sounds very differently from all of Hubbard's previous album, specially from his CTI studio dates done between 1970 and 1973. However, it's very similar to the "new" CTI sound that was dominant on Creed Taylor's label around 1976, when David Matthews replaced both Don Sebesky and Bob James as the main house-arranger, bringing a heavy funky spice to the sessions he was involved in.
Curiously, although they had performed live in several occasions on the CTI All Stars concerts and tours in the USA and abroad (Sony still has the masters of an unreleased fantastic performance from April 20, 1973, at the Madison Square Garden, when Hubbard, James, Ron Carter, Jack DeJohnette, Eric Gale & Stanley Turrentine opened for Deodato's "2001 Space Concert"), Hubbard and James had done only one studio session during their CTI (hey)days. Two cuts from that April 1972 meeting, "People Make The World Go Round" and "Betcha by Golly Wow" were eventually included on "Polar AC," an album of out-takes released by CTI in 1975, when FH had already left CTI.
On "Windjammer," Bob James took control of everything. By "everything" I mean all the opulent arrangements, orchestra conducting, choice of material, musicians, engineer and musical direction, reprising Creed Taylor's approach or "concept," if you like. The all-star cast assembled a la CTI includes Gary King (the stupidly underrated late bass master who is the only musician, along with Hubbard, that plays in all tracks of the album), Steve Gadd, Chris Parker, Andy Newmark, Michael Brecker, Eric Gale, Dave Spinozza, Ralph MacDonald, Ray Mantilla, Hubert Laws, Phil Bodner, George Marge and many more in the brass & string sections, plus Patti Austin and the late Gwen Guthrie among the five backing vocalists.
The only member of Hubbard's touring band at that time that was allowed to take part of the proceedings was George Cables. Even so, Bob James is "the" keyboardist on the session, using acoustic piano, Fender Rhodes, Yamaha YC 30 organ, Hohner clavinet & Arp synthesizer. Bob also contributed with his original "Touch Me Baby" and had the nerve to arrange a beautiful funk-ballad arrangement of "Feelings," the supermellow pop hit composed by Brazilian singer Morris Albert (born Mauricio Alberto) that reached #2 in the Adult Contemporay and #6 in the Pop singles of the Billboard charts in 1975, having been recorded also by other jazzmen like Milt Jackson on his Pablo LP "Feelings," produced by the purist Norman Granz. On James' hands, "Feelings" got a real funky bass line, played by Gary King, contrasting with the subtle woodwinds of the intro and the romantic string passages. Very pleasant music to listen, dance and f***!
Here are some insightful comments borrowed from my dear friend Doug Payne's "Sound Insights" blog: