Not that Freddie Hubbards death created a new sudden desire for unissued and locked-in-the-vault material, but it certainly did fire the many labels he had recorded for to leap into very quick action. And with his existing live recorded output woefully thin on the ground, and variable in quality, ‘Without A Song: Live In Europe’ is justifiably one of the most anticipated of his post-humous releases. Recorded from 1969 in three different venues from London, Bristol and some unspecified location in Germany, the trumpeter was actually involved in the processes for its release too. Excited about the album and other similar archival finds, it really is a great shame that he didn’t live to see this release in all its glory.
A strong live band is formed around the rhythm of bassist Ron Carter and drummer Louis Hayes, with Roland Hanna lending his skills on piano, and interestingly no second horn, allowing Hubbard full reign to solo as he pleases, with his signature sound showcased immediately from the start. The mood throughout is notably buoyant and joyful and sounding like everyone is fully enjoying themselves, with just ‘The Things We Did Last Summer’ dipping into more melancholic ballad fare, but still sounding beautiful – just like the other ballad here, ‘Body & Soul’, which in fact is the only piece to have appeared elsewhere in the Hubbard discography, with everything else here tantalisingly receiving its very first release.
It’s very close to being consistently all good too, from the slower ballads to the energetic classic of ‘A Night In Tunisia’, with Hubbard simmering all over the set. There’s some raw aggression here too, but being Hubbard of course, it’s all done with a clear head for emotional resonance, while Hayes supplies the requisite thunder, opening many of the numbers with impressive and powerful attack. His inspired playing on ‘Blues By Five’ in particular is a treat to behold.
The end of the set closes questionably however, starting with the far-out and distinctly free ‘Space Track’. Manic, abstract, and unsettling it doesn’t sit well with the rest of the tunes here, and would have been better left off altogether. Never-the-less, it was Hubbard himself who insisted on its inclusion. Thankfully things then end on a high with ‘Hub-Tones’, four minues of high energy interplay, with so much going on, it sounds like eight minutes compacted to fit everything in. Hayes’ brief solo is a nice touch too.
The entire band, unsurprisingly, sounds good here, but there is no mistake that this is Hubbards show, and he is shown in a very good light indeed – as the true master of the trumpet that he was, with command over both melody and also a strong swaggering muscularity. Despite the disjointed inclusion of ‘Space Track’, this is an essential Hubbard recording of the moment just before he joined the CTI stable and entered arguably the most commercially successful phase of his career.