Expansive and Daring Electric Jazz
Red Clay is one of those records that mucks up the neat evolution narrative of jazz. It was recorded in 1970, several years after its star pianist Herbie Hancock and others had begun using the electric piano, and during the time when bandleaders like Miles Davis were experimenting with high-wattage rock rhythms. But it's the creation of veteran hard bop trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, whose open and inquisitive solos instantly separate it from more pedestrian jazz-rock comminglings.
Hubbard believed he could reach the "acoustic" and "electric" jazz audiences without alienating either. Red Clay is one of a handful of records to manage that trick. Its compositions, all by Hubbard, are centered on the blues and Kind of Blue–style modality—except for the title track, which borrows its chord sequence from the pop hit "Sunny." Hubbard's tunes encourage showboating, and all here rise to the challenge: Saxophonist Joe Henderson navigates "The Intrepid Fox" as though trying to show what "stealth" might sound like, and Hancock animates "Suite Sioux" with utterly sweet lines and crisp staccato bursts of chording that become their own kind of melody.
Red Clay became a jazz touchstone. It brought the trumpeter's daring, bellicose style to a wider audience, and then, inevitably, created demand for follow-ups. Hubbard obliged, and while some of his subsequent efforts are pleasant, they're slight when compared with the dazzling color bursts that prevail here.
Released: 1970, CTI
Key Tracks: "The Intrepid Fox," "Suite Sioux," "Red Clay."
Catalog Choice: Backlash
Next Stop: Stanley Turrentine: Salt Song
After That: Donald Byrd and the Blackbyrds: City Life
Book Page: 372