For unreconstructed fans of hard bop, the pairing of like-minded trumpeters Marcus Printup and Tim Hagans — both intent upon exploring the tunes of Freddie Hubbard — may be the answer to their prayers. For those less devout, though, nearly two undiluted hours of the stuff proved to be a little too much.
As the current dearth of potent songwriting continues to haunt music of all persuasions, the number and variety of “songbook” albums is multiplying; the Printup/Hagans collaboration (Blue Note’s “Hubsongs”) is the latest and certainly not the last. Hubbard, whose own horn is rarely heard these days, has a lot of strikingly original tunes in his formidable catalog, one that Printup/Hagans dipped into without coming close to running out of material.
Among the best selections on the docket were “Backlash” —given a nice 1960s boogaloo bop treatment — and “Povo,” which Printup described as one of Hubbard’s “more commercial” tunes, but in fact sounded like another good, straight slice of hard bop. There were also two ringers by other writers, a lovely, subtle rendering by Printup of “Chelsea Bridge” and Hagans’ thoughtful take on “You Don’t Know What Love Is.” And whenever pianist Billy Childs went into action, he contributed consistently tasty swinging lines and occasional witty outbreaks of Baroque-like figures.
Yet Printup’s and Hagan’s unison statements of the themes were often surprisingly ragged. Although they traded fours (yawn) once with drummer Joe LaBarbera on “Hub Cap,” they never tried to challenge each other one-on-one. Printup probably would have gotten the better of the deal anyway, for his playing was consistently crisper, more cutting and more focused than that of Hagans, who had a tendency to wander.