This may be Freddie Hubbard's finest moment as a leader in that it embodies and utilizes all of his strengths as a composer, soloist, and frontman. On Red Clay, Hubbard combines hard bop's glorious blues-out past with the soulful innovations of mainstream jazz in the 1960s, and reads them through the chunky groove innovations of 1970s jazz fusion. This session places the trumpeter in the company of giants such as tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson, pianist Herbie Hancock, bassist Ron Carter, and drummer Lenny White.
Hubbard's five compositions all come from deep inside blues territory; these shaded notions are grafted onto funky hard bop melodies worthy of Horace Silver's finest tunes, and are layered inside the smoothed-over cadences of shimmering, steaming soul. The 12-minute-plus title track features a 4/4 modal opening and a spare electric piano solo woven through the twin horns of Hubbard and Henderson. It is a fine example of snaky groove music. Henderson even takes his solo outside a bit without ever moving out of the rhythmnatist's pocket. "Delightful" begins as a ballad with slow, clipped trumpet lines against a major key background, and opens onto a mid-tempo groover, then winds back into the dark, steamy heart of bluesy melodicism. The hands-down favorite here, though, is "The Intrepid Fox," with its Miles-like opening of knotty changes and shifting modes, that are all rooted in bop's muscular architecture. It's White and Hancock who shift the track from underneath with large sevenths and triple-timed drums that land deeply inside the clamoring, ever-present riff. Where Hubbard and Henderson are playing against as well as with one another, the rhythm section, lifted buoyantly by Carter's bridge-building bassline, carries the melody over until Hancock plays an uncharacteristically angular solo before splitting the groove in two and doubling back with a series of striking arpeggiatics. The Legacy reissue, boasting not only gloriously remastered sound, offers an even longer — and more revealing — live take of "Red Clay" with a different band that includes Stanley Turrentine on tenor. This is a classic, hands down. ~Thom Jurek, All Music Guide