Freddie Hubbard & Jimmy Heath – Jazz Gems – Live at the Left Bank

Freddie Hubbard & Jimmy Heath
Freddie Hubbard & Jimmy Heath Jazz Gems – Live at the Left Bank

(Label M – 2001)
by Phyllis A. Lodge

Jazz Gems — Live at the Left Bank finds trumpet and saxophone masters Freddie Hubbard and Jimmy Heath respectively in an all-the-way-live, high energy masterful jam session. The set hits on a high note and intensifies throughout as the musicians dig right in with All Members, a Jimmy Heath composition and classic exchange of improvisational dialog between Hubbard and Heath. You feel the atmosphere of the sweat-filled room as the high-frequency rhythm section including pianist Gus Simms, drummer Bertell Knox, and bassist Wilbur Little orbit the dialoging horns. The audience response during the session is supremely indicative of the interrelationship between musician and listener as they call out, whistle and applaud the musicians jubilantly.

Bluesville is one of those traditional, automatic head-bobbers. It will have every soul within hearing distance caught up in its tempo. Freddie Hubbard gets the ball rolling on this one, stepping right into the mix with his customary dapper charm and musical precision. Plus he swings hard. Hubbard’s propensity for translating emotions through his instrument on the spot is demonstrated here with clarity of purpose. The powerful combination of thought and emotion is consistent in his solos. Hubbard commands each degree of feeling that visits his creative imagination with breathtaking clarity from start to finish, and he does so with startling immediacy. The audience explodes in applause.

Heath, as a member of a royal Philadelphia dynasty in jazz, is among those who set the musical curve in this art form. Note Heath’s savvy in easing into a solo as he steadily builds graceful arches of expression, layering successive ideas around the theme. Such an approach is a perfect stylistic contrast to Hubbard’s highly aggressive, dynamic musical cinema of expression. Each is an archetype of his respective musical persona which shines unmistakably through their horn , except Heath’s horn smiles while Hubbard’s guffaws. Both men are solidly grounded in the blues spirit with a depth that revives our respect for this musical tradition. And in this spirit, progresses his solo into an gradual building of power in a circular breathing pattern that allows him to build his solo to a controlled heated conclusion, and causes the audience to holler in response. Hubbard then steps back in alongside Heath to wind things up, playing the theme twice in a consecutive octave climb before closing.

On Loverman pianist Gus Simms hovers in shimmering accompaniment to Hubbard’s opening, taunting ‘talking horn’. Simms’ early keyboard embellishments in this number foreshadow the brilliant statement he presents further into the number. First, though, Hubbard does an enchanting heart-to-heart talk with the audience in his solo . Heath follows with a soothing wellspring of warmth that is both melodic and electric. The master horn men treat this classic with the greatest of respect, before stepping aside to let pianist Gus Simms through. Simms contribution provides impeccable seasoning in a perfected recipe, his keyboard enhance the true flavor of the music without over powering. He saves that for his solos. Simms movement He circles along the edges of the melody while dancing lithely along its circumference. He eschews repetition and predictability, yet keeps the listener at his side throughout with each well-timed, blosomming phrase. Dazzling. After Simms has had his say, Hubbard closes the number with his artfully refined touches.

What is This Thing Called Love? travels at racehorse speed on a bright, clear day. Hubbard’s notes fall like snowflakes, inventive without duplication, yet all equally intricate and beautiful. The only thing he repeats is his flawless execution of a tune. He can solo forever without ever becoming muddy. Then along comes Jimmy, at first, so cool in the wake of the Freddie’s blaze. Heath calmly walks the fire before his smiling horn leans into the number, intent, as he crescendos the theme’s question into a demand finish. Here, drummer Bertell Knox rattles the number some more with a tap dance solo on the skins. He playing his sticks; tom-toms and dances like Bojangles. He has waited his turn like a gentleman, and when it came he pounced! With it he flared like a burst on the 4th of July, and sprinkled into his finish like the final particles of the sparkles that rain to the earth. Wilbur Little maintains a systole of rhythmic life underneath the others, feeding the harmonic beehive of activity with consistent high vibration. He quietly draws your attention to his perfection at blending with the others.

Jimmy Heath opens Autumn Leaves in a figure eight formation in a ceaseless current of harmonies. He then becomes captivated with a self-induced exercise that is a series of phrases that reach for a beautiful, distantly placed high note. Heath performs this phrase maybe four or five times, in each instance traveling lower register the horn, only to reach up, retrieving with flawless, consistent clarity and true of pitch that top note. Now it’s Freddie’s turn to tread softly on his entrance because Jimmy has created quite a stir.

Jazz Gems… was originally recorded live in 1965 and rereleased in 2001. How fortunate for us. It is a masterpiece. It is Freddie Hubbard hitting his stride, Jimmy Heath eyeing the apex, Gus Simms’ keyboard laying an impeccable chordal path for the others to travel. It is Wilbur Little setting and keeping vibrant the pulse, Bertell Knox dancing through as he keeps the signals clean and open. It is an association of a sterling society.

How many words are there remaining in the human language for performances of this caliber. Actually, Jimmy Heath himself has some and I will quote him. He says in the notes:

When Joel Dorn sent me a copy of these tapes to check out, I didn’t remember what we had played on that Sunday, but the feeling was so strong and the communication so good Freddie and I agreed to let him put it out. It made me realize how much I miss that era and the beautiful people who were a part of the LBJS (Left Banks Jazz Society). We opened with “All Members,” dedicated to the Jazz community, and on this day Freddie was killin’ as usual. I took some of my longest recorded solos. It was an event and the people knew what was going on. We felt like giving our all in appreciation. Folks would clap or holler out your name in the middle of your solo when they got your message or felt your groove. We always played encores and got standing ovations. I will always remember LBJS. It was like a coming home party each time, even though I was from Philly.On behalf of Freddie and myself, we hope you will be able to feel the love shared between the audience and the musicians.
– Jimmy Heath

Find Jam Gems — “Live” at the Left Bank. Scour the shops, climb every mountain; leave no stone unturned “…wrapped in mink or saran – any way that you can…”