Saturday, January 05, 2008

Northern Exposure

During dark, starless, subzero nights in northern Maine, when gloom and inertia bore down on our sanity, my British friend Leon and I would drive the icy streets of Orono in the wee hours of February while puffing a reefer cigarette, the heat cranked, the dashboard lights giving our faces a blue-white glow. I'd always come prepared for these escapes: In 1991, I was spending every Sunday afternoon in my college library's listening center sampling jazz albums. For whatever reason, the record that really thrilled me was 1974's In Concert by Freddie Hubbard and Stanley Turrentine. Looking back, I probably only liked it because it approximated a Blues for Allah-era Grateful Dead drums-and-space jam -- a dubious aesthetic benchmark, to be sure. But I'd never heard 70s fusion before, so although I now realize this sounds like Bitch's Brew Lite, it did exactly what I needed it to do at the time. That is: When we needed to teleport finally away, I'd put this in the tape deck and the result was guaranteed: every instrument emerged clear, stark and alive in the darkness, like alien voices warbling secret conversations in our private cave, the inside of my brain becoming a quantum physics factory. By the time Herbie Hancock turned the space-out effects on his electric piano at the end of the 19-minute "Gilbraltar," we were deep inside the Babylonian hieroglyphics, speaking in tongues, destination, as they say, OUT.

It's probably ill-advised to revisit music you liked while high in college. It's downright embarrassing when you get right down to it. But in a weak moment, I sought out and found an unopened vinyl copy on eBay last week and it arrived today. It's out of print, last issued on CD in 1991, evaporating with the now-defunct CTI Records. I've decided it's not half bad in the sober light of adult life -- in fact, it's pretty groovy if you can excuse Turrentine, whose sax solos constantly backslide into Night Court theme music riffs. But I love the echoing, overlapping horn lines at the start of "Povo" and the way it launches off Ron Carter's funk bass riff. The drum solo in the middle of "Gilbraltar" has a surprisingly heavy, Moby Dick quality to it. And Hubbard has a real chemistry with Herbie (see also: Maiden Voyage, 1965), with scintillating and edgy keyboard solos twinkling against the open frontier of a live audience. There are only two songs here, one per side. The vinyl was virgin until I put the needle down and recorded it to mp3:

Povo - Freddie Hubbard & Stanley Turrentine

Gilbraltar - Freddie Hubbard & Stanley Turrentine

>> Here's the lineup: Freddie Hubbard/trumpet, Stanley Turrentine/alto sax, Ron Carter/bass, Herbie Hancock/keys, Jack DeJohnette/drums, and Eric Gale/guitar.

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