In 1981, the music-biz publication Cash Box hinted that producer Michael Cuscuna was planning a collaborative LP between trumpeters Freddie Hubbard and Woody Shaw on former Columbia head honcho Bruce Lundvall’s new Elektra jazz label (9/12/81).
That label eventually evolved in to the short-lived but especially classy Elektra-Musician Records, briefly home to some of the most notable jazz of the early eighties and peopled by many former Columbia jazz stars like Dexter Gordon, Eric Gale and Billy Cobham.
The rumored Hubbard-Shaw collaboration didn’t happen until 1985 – for the revived Blue Note label (which, by then, Lundvall had moved to oversee). What came out instead was Shaw’s straight-ahead Master of the Art, with guest star Bobby Hutcherson (also both former Columbia artists), and Hubbard’s surprising crossover set, Ride Like the Wind.
The surprise wasn’t another Freddie Hubbard crossover record, but the appearance of a crossover set on a label that was, for the most part, either staunchly “straight ahead” or more progressive. Given the timing of the recording (June 1981), it seems entirely likely that this particularly expensive record was financed by and intended for another label altogether in a deal that somehow fell through.
It’s easy enough to assume that Lundvall picked up the masters to put out a brand-name record on his newly-launched Elektra Musician label.
This was the trumpeter’s first foray in to orchestrated jazz since The Love Connection (1979), an album Hubbard called “overproduced” in 1981 – precisely around the same time he was recording Ride Like the Wind. But it’s more like a West Coast Windjammer, down to the dual recent Top 20 covers and the wind on both covers blowing Hubtones’s bespoke scarves.
Released in March 1982, only several months after Splash, Ride Like the Wind pairs Hubbard with composer and arranger Allyn Ferguson, a name not particularly well-known in jazz or pop in the early eighties.
Ferguson’s work in jazz included brief collaborations with Stan Kenton (whose 1965 Ferguson-penned piece “Passacaglia and Fugue” features several of the same musicians heard here), Buddy Rich and Sarah Vaughan. He also served an extended stint as Johnny Mathis’s arranger in the sixties.
Much of Ferguson’s work, though, is as soundtrack composer for many TV series and movies, most notably at the time, as music director for TV’s “Charlie’s Angels” (1976-81) and “Barney Miller” (1975-82). His “Charlie’s Angels” theme is probably his best-known piece.
Here, Hubbard and Ferguson cover Kenny Loggins’s “This is It” (1979) and Christopher Cross’s “Ride Like the Wind” (1980, and also featuring this session’s trumpeter Chuck Findley), both of which surprisingly translate well as instrumentals. Edited versions of both tunes were issued as a promotional single, with “This is It” as the a-side. Presumably, it didn’t get picked up by many radio stations.
Ferguson contributes three peppy, if mostly soundtrack-y originals, the cleverly titled “Hubbard’s Cupboard,” the nicely moody “Condition Alpha” and the storyboarded “Two Moods for Freddie.” While “Condition Alpha” is the record’s stand-out piece, “Two Moods” is notable for trombonist Bill Watrous’s sole – and welcome – appearance on the disc.
Ferguson and Hubbard deliver an incisive and funky take on Joe Zawinul’s “Birdland.” Already nicely covered elsewhere by Stanley Turrentine and Maynard Ferguson, this “Birdland” has an edge that recalls Bob James’s gospel piano breaks on Hubbard’s earlier cover of “Dream Weaver.”
Hubbard’s always lovely “Brigitte,” named for his wife and first appearing on his 1973 CTI album Keep Your Soul Together, gets a bit soapy here – sounding as though it belongs on a James Bond soundtrack of the period.
Ultimately, Ride Like the Wind is like the evening breeze: pleasant, peaceful, calm and cool. And probably too much of a good thing. Like the breeze, you fail to even notice it after a while.
Despite saxophonist Bud Shank’s presence in the orchestra, Freddie Hubbard is the primary soloist throughout, with occasional tasty electric piano solos by Bill Mays. Hubbard delivers the goods, but he could be playing anything with anybody here. Nothing stands out.
“Hubbard displays…strong chops,” wrote Billboard at the time, “but…offers less warmth on Ride Like The Wind, a sleek but somewhat impersonal array of pop hits given supercharged string and horn charts by Allyn Ferguson. Cut live by Soundstream's two-channel digital system, the disk gives us plenty of Abe Laboriel's funky bass and Bill Maxwell's dance rhythms on drums. What it lacks is Hubbard's sense of discovery on his recent acoustic sets, but fusion fans will still relish its sonics.” (February 27, 1982)
Remarkably, for the period, the Wind recording sessions were filmed for the Sony VHS videotape release called Freddie Hubbard – Studiolive. Originally released in 1981 as part of Sony’s “Video LP” video cassettes, the entire 59-minute LP program is easily viewed now on YouTube.