Freddie Hubbard’s Red Clay: Analysis of Jazz Covers

Closeup of Freddie Hubbard's Red Clay album cover

Want to expand your jazz horizons beyond the iconic samples used by A Tribe Called Quest? (Shoutout to Ronnie Foster!)

While Foster is beloved for his basslines, Freddie Hubbard was a groundbreaking trumpet player who collaborated with jazz legends like Art Blakey, Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, Herbie Hancock, and many more.

He also led his own groups, releasing incredible albums like Red Clay, First Light, and Straight Life on the CTI label in the early 1970s.

Let’s delve into the title track from Red Clay for this exploration!

Freddie Hubbard’s “Red Clay”, Red Clay (1970)

“Red Clay” opens with an extended, atmospheric intro: Freddie Hubbard‘s mournful trumpet weaves through a tapestry of Joe Henderson‘s sax, Herbie Hancock‘s shimmering Rhodes, Ron Carter‘s pulsing bass, and Lenny White‘s propulsive drums. A drum break signals the groove’s arrival, anchored by a hypnotic bassline. The horns enter with the melody, setting the stage for Freddie Hubbard’s solo.

Hubbard’s trumpet lines are relaxed at first, gaining intensity as he reaches for high notes and explores his signature two-note patterns. Herbie Hancock follows, his Rhodes solo subtly building with Ron Carter’s bass support. Hancock’s playing, while skillfully melodic, might not rank among his most thrilling explorations.

Joe Henderson’s sax solo is the true standout. Beginning tentatively, he soon unleashes phrases echoing Hubbard’s trumpet style, creating a thrilling call-and-response. Herbie Hancock’s driving Rhodes chords and Freddie Hubbard’s rhythmic trumpet jabs propel the solo towards an ecstatic climax, showcasing stunning interplay between the ensemble.

Ron Carter’s bass solo delivers rhythmic variations on the core theme, leading to open drum breaks that give way to the melody’s return. Hubbard’s playful note-bending adds a bluesy touch. The groove then dissolves, echoing the intro’s spacious atmosphere.

While the performance boasts strong individual contributions, particularly from Joe Henderson, a touch more fire within the overall recording might have elevated “Red Clay” to even greater heights. Regardless, the tune’s infectious melody and captivating interplay make it a memorable and enjoyable jazz journey.

Freddie Hubbard’s “Red Clay” (Alternate Version), Red Clay (1970)

The Red Clay reissue’s live “Red Clay” features a powerhouse lineup: Stanley Turrentine on sax, George Benson on guitar, Johnny Smith on organ and electric piano, Ron Carter on bass, Airto Moriera on percussion, and Billy Cobham on drums. The arrangement sticks close to the studio version, but with an electrifying energy. Cobham’s drumming hits harder than Lenny White’s, and Hubbard leans more into his bluesy note bends within the main theme.

Despite Benson taking on much of the comping, the electric piano gets a bit lost in the mix. Hubbard’s solo is strong, utilizing his signature bent notes and building to a thrilling climax marked by sustained high notes and crashing cymbals.

Turrentine’s sax solo follows, masterfully working the crowd and building infectious grooves. Hubbard’s trumpet adds a punchy counterpoint, echoing the studio version’s dynamic. Benson’s guitar solo is equally groove-driven, though Cobham’s insistent hi-hat work may be a matter of personal taste.

Smith’s keyboard solo, while competent, doesn’t stand out in this version. Afterward, the entire band enters a thrilling jam session with Hubbard’s trumpet in the lead, followed by a brief Carter bass solo that transitions back to the main theme.

The performance concludes with playful trumpet work from Hubbard and a return to the intro’s spacious atmosphere. This live version crackles with energy, the soloists clearly feeding off the crowd’s enthusiasm.

The V.S.O.P. Quintet’s “Red Clay”, Tempest in the Colosseum (1977)

The VSOP Quintet‘s 1977 live “Red Clay” crackles with energy. Herbie Hancock leads on acoustic piano alongside Wayne Shorter, Ron Carter, and the legendary Tony Williams. The tempo is noticeably faster than the Red Clay versions, and Carter’s prominent bassline immediately grabs the ear. Williams’ drumming and the overall mix give this cut a raw, thrilling edge.

Carter’s driving bass underpins Hubbard’s trumpet solo, creating a fantastic interplay. Hancock’s piano responds beautifully to Hubbard’s lines, showcasing their strong musical connection. Hubbard’s solo is virtuosic and adventurous, leading into Shorter’s sax exploration. Here, Hancock and Carter build a dynamic foundation with descending chords and walking basslines. The solo gradually builds in intensity before a brief pause, setting the stage for Hancock’s piano turn.

Hancock’s solo is initially busy, then settles into a more relaxed feel. He delivers a standout phrase with impeccable timing – a true testament to the group’s extraordinary cohesion. The band smoothly transitions back to the main theme, Hubbard and Shorter engaging in a mesmerizing exchange over Hancock’s piano. The performance closes with this interplay, showcasing the sheer brilliance of the ensemble.

This rendition is the clear standout, bursting with the fiery spirit often missing in the Red Clay versions. A must-listen for any jazz enthusiast!

Soil & Pimp Sessions’ “Red Clay”, Pimpoint (2007)

Soil & Pimp Sessions‘ 2007 take on “Red Clay” is a sonic explosion of pure groove. Forget Hubbard’s mournful intro – this version launches with a stripped-down, driving bassline, setting the stage for a funkier, heavier interpretation. The drums kick in with a break that outshines the original’s smoothness. Tabu Zombie‘s trumpet, Motoharu‘s sax, Josei‘s acoustic piano, Atika Goldman‘s bass, and Midorin‘s drums lock in seamlessly.

The sax solo bursts forth with infectious energy, the drummer mirroring every rhythmic twist. A brief breakdown allows for a high-octane piano solo that maintains the relentless intensity. Note the bassist’s touch – the familiar “Red Clay” chords get an intriguing Latin flavor that propels the solos forward. The trumpet returns, drenched in a mesmerizing delay effect that works surprisingly well within this funk-infused context.

The band restates the main theme with an even higher energy level, fueled by their fiery solos. Their performance style perfectly aligns with the band’s reputation for absurdly energetic live shows.

While the VSOP Quintet brought originality and raw fire, Soil & Pimp Sessions deliver a pure funk-driven rendition, brimming with excellent solos and innovative touches like the delay-soaked trumpet. It’s a thrilling testament to the enduring power of “Red Clay” as a platform for explosive jazz exploration.

Jose James’ “Red Clay”, Live at the iTunes Festival (2012)

Before diving into this unique version, a quick primer on Freestyle Fellowship’s “Park Bench People” and Gil Scott-Heron’s “Winter in America” is essential.

Now, for José James‘ bold experiment! He transforms “Park Bench People” by layering it over “Red Clay,” then seamlessly weaves in “Winter in America.” Joining him live are Richard Spavens on drums, Kris Bowers on keys, Takuya Kuroda on trumpet, Solomon Dorsey on bass, and Alister White on trombone.

James begins with vocal samples reminiscent of a DJ’s cuts, building anticipation before the band bursts in with “Red Clay”‘s iconic chords and bassline. He delivers a powerful take on “Park Bench People,” sticking closely to Hubbard’s original arrangement. As the second verse begins, the band loosens its grip slightly, hinting at the Freestyle Fellowship influence that underpins this creative fusion.

James’ vocals soar powerfully, setting the stage for Kuroda’s trumpet solo. As the arrangement transitions toward “Winter in America”, the band effortlessly shifts gears. A funky vamp adds another dimension before they return to “Park Bench People”, James leading an incredible rhythmic exchange with Spavens – a clear nod to Freestyle Fellowship.

Finally, the full “Red Clay” theme emerges with James’ vocals mirroring Kuroda’s trumpet. Unlike Hubbard’s original, this rendition ends with a slower, funkier vamp as James delivers a poignant closing statement.

This daring, multifaceted arrangement showcases James’ mastery and the band’s brilliance. It’s a thrilling testament to the adaptability of “Red Clay” and a must-listen for fans of creative experimentation within the jazz idiom.


Freddie Hubbard‘s “Red Clay” is a timeless classic, but its later interpretations offer a unique thrill that surpasses the original studio version.

Hubbard, Herbie Hancock, and Ron Carter‘s fiery revisit on Tempest in the Colosseum showcases stunning individual improvisations and electrifying interplay.

Bands like Soil & Pimp Sessions and José James take a bold approach, pushing the tune’s relentless groove to the forefront while retaining its improvisational spirit.

These diverse interpretations prove the enduring power of “Red Clay” as a launchpad for jazz exploration.

No wonder the tune lingers – it’s a true testament to Hubbard’s brilliance. Keep exploring, keep listening!

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