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Dentists' Office Jazz

Life Times Diana Hubbard Waterhouse Records

By Thomas M. Levenson

THERE WAS SOMETHING FUNNY about this one from the start. It began innocently enough; somebody arranged an interview, and somebody else found the promo record. If I had to put my finger on it, it was the record that first gave the show away. Some ingenious record company executive had pasted a sticker to the cellophane wrapping, a sticker graced by Stanley Clarke's evaluation of Diana Hubbard's music. There is only one problem. In his glowing tribute, Clarke failed to note that he too played on this album.

One could forgive the obvious bullshit involved if the presence of Clarke--and his Return to Forever colleague, Chick Corea--had somehow managed to make this album worth listening to. But they are no more than sidemen on LifeTimes. Diana Hubbard, on her first album, runs the show, playing piano, (Corea isrelegated to the synthesizer on the one cut he graces) and writing all the music. But unfortunately Hubbard lacks emotion, technique; in fact, she lacks any creative vision beyond a vague desire to "contribute to a renaissance in romanticism."

Hubbard's music does not, as a result, offend the listener. It's not execrable. It is just extraordinarily dull. As a pianist/composer, Hubbard sounds like Bruckner rewritten for the dentist's office. Which is too bad, because Hubbard really can be quite a nice person, and she will go out of her way to try very hard to make you believe what she writes is in some way worthy of serious artistic attention.

In the end it's a lost cause, however. Hubbard claims she wants to write music that "is felt but not heard." She tries to buck the trend in modern jazz and revive the purely romantic side of jazz. In her music, Hubbard states, she is "not trying to be any structured thing. In all of us we have the dreamer."

But lack of structure and amorphous aspirations to write love songs do not sustain this album. Hubbard traces some of her roots back to Tchaikovsky, and she has clearly picked up the less desirable traits of the late 19th century romantics from her years of classical training. Her piano style is heavy-handed, unsubtle and flashy. She alternates booming chords organized in the most predictable of charts, with grandiose runs up and down the keyboard which sound like pallid attempts to imitate Keith Jarret's flourishes. The arrangements do nothing to cover for Hubgaucheries. To evoke Arabia, Hubbard gives us Bedouin ritual music, calling up wailing strings. For a picture of Siberian wilderness, we hear martial strains reminiscent of the Dr. Zhivago score, followed by a short bouzouki solo.

The album liner notes complete the grim destruction of subtlety. For every cut Hubbard has written a brief description of the precise scene she wants to create with her music. It would have been preferable just to read her notes and take the tedium of the album on faith.

SHE OPENS HER EFFORT with a tune called "Rose Coloured Lights." Like everything else on the album, it slides neatly in one ear and just as neatly oozes out the other. The proposed image was, as Hubbard notes, of "a yacht in the Mediterranean. Leaning over a rail at night thinking. The whole spectrum of love: the champagne of c'est la vie in a million stories...."

It gets worse.

The rest of the first side, graced by tunes like "Russian Roulette, 1st and 2nd movement"--the story of a Russian archduke who rides across Siberia, plays Russian roulette, dies and rises again from the dead. The death is heralded by crashing chords from Hubbard's piano, the ascension by a rising run on the bouzouki. As "Russian Roulette" gives way to "Dream #23," Clarke--in his sole appearance on the album--gives a grim picture of war-wracked Stuart England. His bass conveys depression and despair by a simple, minor sequence. Hubbard tries to flesh out the piece by drastically slowing the tempo and playing entirely in the piano's lower register. For all of Hubbard's attempts to write "felt" music, her combination of blatant imagery and her derivative performance produces songs that are just background noises.

Hubbard does not reach her nadir, however, until the second side of the album. The second cut, "Arabia," is introduced to us with the following notes:

Amen-ide-ra and his woman Jora led four thousand desert tribesman in a successful revolt against a decadent, evil regime of Sheik lords. These two were essentially vagabonds of unusual wisdom. Their reign marked a golden era lost to historians. Eventually, Amen-ide-ra yielded to the call of the sands and, taking his sword and horse, rode into the sunrise. Jora and Amen saluted each other as one vagabond to another. Jora stayed to rule.

A grim song follows. A synthesizer simulates the wailing of Muslim prayer chants, in what sounds like an attempt to parody ancient ritual. Juxtaposed with her notes, Hubbard's piano part on the cut becomes simply a trite rendition of images that have long-ago been worked to death. In her search for a niche for herself, Hubbard, despite her supposed "renaissance," merely recasts old tunes, old images, and old ideas in a new, sucaryled form.

One must wonder then, why the hype? Why should Corea and Clarke endorse this album, write poems to Hubbard, much less play on it? The answer is that Hubbard is only a part-time musician; the bulk of her time is spent as an executive in her father's--L. Ron Hubbard's-- Church of Scientology, and both Clarke and Corea are scientologists. Hubbard said she was trying to make no social statement with this album--she achieved all she wanted from her work in her church and was content with that.

This contentment, if nothing else, shines forth on LifeTimes. The music contains no downers for the unwary lister but there are no real highs either. Like Hubbard herself, this album proceeds on an even keel, making little or no impression on its surroundings. In spite of that, and in spite of anyone's best efforts, I suppose this album will gain a wide audience. For in spite of the lack of content, social, emotional or otherwise; in spite of the hackneyed imagery and lackluster performances, this album will be heard. In the dentist's offices, in the banks, in the airports and restaurants, it will, God help us, be heard.

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