Review Summary: Highly satisfying when taken as a whole, Ready for Freddie is the kind of consummately rendered product that might do more than merely satisfy us—iit might even have a lesson to teach us about our own potential.
Among the warmest and most affable of the many classic albums released within the set of performance motifs critics and record companies took to calling “hard bop,” 1962’s Ready for Freddie
is both an instrumental showcase for its frontman and a dense sonic weave, irreducible to just one person. The complex and distinctly jazzy dynamic whereby the boundaries of individual-vs.-group are by turns muddled and emphasized has been written about a lot, but you’re unlikely to find a record as replete with the pleasures of this Schrödingeresque improvisational rapport than this session, recorded when trumpeter Freddie Hubbard was a mere 23 years old.
Ready for Freddie
is one of those records that is sonically pleasing from any given perspective, played at any time of day, front to back or in snippets, at the gym (OK…maybe) or in the kitchen. The aesthetic gratification even the most casual jazz fan will find in this album is surely an effect of the world-class talent on display. You may not know Kiane Zawadi f.k.a. Bernard McKinney—who is superb here—but that’s because nobody knows anyone who plays the euphonium. Otherwise, I mean, c’mon: McCoy Tyner? Art Davis? Honorary best-drummer-ever Elvin Jones? Even Wayne Shorter, whose chintzy tone (yeah I said it) does nothing for me on his own 1960s records, plays with a flow that is smooth and profound in equal measure.
A slate of well-regarded names represents only part of the story, however; one of the marks of Ready for Freddie
’s greatness is the ease with which its constituent musicians slide in and out of spotlight. Hardly self-abnegating, these musicians nonetheless proceed from a concept of camaraderie as hand-in-hand with personal expression, so that each part adds up to a whole and is a whole in itself. Even Elvin Jones, who in his youth would have cast his aggressions on a loping rhythm like that of closer “Crisis,” instead takes it easy, allowing McCoy Tyner to probe the boundaries of modal improvisation with minimal interference. Or just listen to the first notes of opener “Arietis,” where each horn lightly pops with ebullience. (Give it up to producer Alfred Lion, who records each instrument in seemingly perfect conditions, at a seemingly perfect distance from the microphone, so that both the notes themselves and the spaces between them ring out.) From the Charlie Parker-copping modulations of Hubbard’s own “Birdlike” (get it?) to the languorous Victor Young composition “Weaver of Dreams,” these songs, none of them stone-cold classics per se
, are wholly transformed by the polish of the interplay of sounds practiced by these musicians. No element is out of place.
What’s so beautiful to witness within and beyond this level of care is that Hubbard stands tall even among this world-class sextet. On the evidence of the records to which he contributed—Free Jazz: A Collective Improvisation
(1960), Out to Lunch!
(1965), you name ‘em—this guy deserves as much credit as just about anyone else for moving the compositional motifs of jazz music forward into a brave new era. But he was always a man of classical pleasures at heart, and this record bears out his belief in the basic expressive potential of jazz improvisation. Like his forebear Clifford Brown, Hubbard is attuned to the power of repetition as a means to various ends—erudition, precision, humor. The echoing phrase Spotify tells me occurs two minutes and fifty-seven seconds into “Weaver of Dreams” is the proof in the pudding: dancing lightly over Jones’ brushstrokes and Tyner’s poignant open chords, the trumpeter finds Heaven in four or five notes—Hell if I can tell the difference—yoked closely together by a quick tongue and finger. Moments like these disclose the uniquely spontaneous articulations of jazz music and the genius of those articulating. Highly satisfying when taken as a whole, Ready for Freddie
is the kind of consummately rendered product that might do more than merely satisfy us—it might even have a lesson to teach us about our own potential.