Sunday, August 06, 2023

Freddie Hubbard – "Splash" (1981)

Hot on the heels of fellow CTI alum Grover Washington, Jr.’s number 2 hit “Just the Two of Us,” Freddie Hubbard took his own shot at the charts with the much-too maligned and now all-but forgotten Splash.

But instead of going with known hit makers like former CTI phenom Eumir Deodato – who had recently turned Kool and the Gang into a Top 40 act – or Ralph MacDonald and William Salter, the brains behind Washington’s success (and both of whom co-wrote “Rock Me Arms,” for Hubbard’s aforementioned Windjammer), Hubbard oddly opted to go with unknowns who had precious little experience or success in jazz, R&B, pop or wherever these tributaries find a successful sense of confluence.

”I’m producing it,” Hubbard told DownBeat in 1981. “I doubt if you’ll know any of the cats on it though – they don’t have no names. Studio guys.” True to his word, an arsenal of LA session players made this particular Splash. These include keyboardists Clarence McDonald (one of the album’s contractors) and Chester Thompson (from Tower of Power), guitarists David T. Walker and Paul Jackson, Jr. and legendary drummer Jim Keltner.

For better or worse, it’s also his first record with vocalists.

Splash is primarily guided by arranger and co-producer Sanifu Al Hall, Jr., a former trombonist with the Ray Charles Orchestra and West Coast studio musician in the seventies (he’s since relocated back to his native Jacksonville, Florida).

While Hubbard was promoting his first post-CTI album High Energy (1974), the trumpeter called Hall to sub for trombonist George Bohannon in Hubbard’s band. Already a fan of the trumpeter, Hall was first struck by Hubbard on J.J. Johnson’s 1961 album J.J., Inc. Hall would later appear on Hubbard’s High Energy follow-up, Liquid Love (1975).

Hall neither got much credit for his session work nor took many headlining gigs but he did arrange Hubbard’s fellow CTI All Star alum Johnny Hammond’s 1977 album Storm Warning.

Hubbard’s first appearance on the Berkeley-based Fantasy label (from which fellow CTI alum Stanley Turrentine had recently departed) is also likely due to Hall, who had recently arranged a single for the label, “(I Don’t Wanna Dance Tonight) I Got Love on My Mind,” by singer and songwriter Marilyn McLeod – who is Alice Coltrane’s sister and the maternal grandmother of the musician, songwriter and producer Stephen Ellison, a.k.a. Flying Lotus.

The program is, admittedly, a mixed bag: more ripple than splash. There is no instrumental soloist other than Hubbard, and surprisingly no saxophone foil. But, of course, the focus here is on the album’s wanna-be single, “You’re Gonna Lose Me,” a feature for the wonderfully gifted vocalist Jeanie Tracy.

Ms. Tracy, who sadly never found her own stardom but would later work with Aretha Franklin, Jeffrey Osborne, Peabo Bryson, Sheena Easton and Van Morrison, was a singer in the great Sylvester’s band at the time (which also included Splash keyboardist Louis Small).

It’s a noble effort, but, of course, it never went anywhere. Hubbard’s requisite solo is as negligible as notable (as was his appearance on Billy Joel’s “Zanzibar”)...but hardly the point of the song. Hubbard would return the favor by appearing on Ms. Tracy’s “I Feel Like Dancing” on her 1982 solo debut Me and You.

Almost the entirety of the rest of the program is what’s worth hearing. It’s certainly “of its time,” with the disco-y title track (with Hubbard on flugelhorn) sounding almost like soundtrack fare, but no less enjoyable even so.

“Mystic Lady,” likewise, recalls the Hubbard-esque “Take Me Home” track from the Bill Conti soundtrack of that year’s James Bond film For Your Eyes Only. This smoothie might have made a better single choice, but such hits as those by Chuck Mangione (“Feels So Good,” 1977) and Herb Alpert (“Rise,” 1979) seemed way back in the rear-view mirror by this point.

Many might appreciate the disco-funk of the all-instrumental “Sister ‘Stine” (as I certainly do). But the disc’s highlight is surely the closer, “Jarri,” a composition credited to Hubbard, Hall and Cynthia Faulkner. If “Jarri” wasn’t a “hit,” it surely deserved a place in Freddie Hubbard’s repertoire.

Something else that never happened.

Apparently, there was enough music recorded at these sessions for a second album. But the utter lack of interest in or attention to Splash prevented any such sequel. It would be interesting, though, to hear what else came out of these sessions.

All Music’s Scott Yanow unfairly called Splash one of Hubbard’s “low points” but on the 2011 CD release of the album, the BGP label referred to “[t]he renowned trumpeter’s final album to mix soul and jazz” as a “real gem.”

Splash is the most commercial thing I’ve ever done,” Freddie Hubbard apparently bragged to DownBeat in 1981…for some reason. Steve Bloom, the interviewer, was unabashedly disappointed: “Splash,” he said, is a poolful [sic] of chlorinated funk-jazz.”

Fantasy would later capture Hubbard – in straight-ahead mode – with saxophonist Joe Henderson and vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson, at a November 1981 club date, issued over three records: Keystone Bop (1982), A Little Night Music (1983) and Freddie Hubbard Classics (1984). These were later compiled over two CDs: Keystone Bop: Sunday Night>/i> (1994) and Keystone Bop: Vol. 2 Friday/Saturday (1996).

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