Bobby Hutcherson-The Kicker.

Label: Blue Note Records-Tone Poet Series.

Format: LP.

Less than three years after Bobby Hutcherson made his recording debut, the twenty-three year old vibraphonist recorded his debut album The Kicker for Blue Note Records in 1963. This was the start of the most prolific period of his long and illustrious career. 

Over the next fourteen years, Bobby Hutcherson released fifteen studio albums, one live album, two collaborations with Herbie Hancock and five with Harold Land. Bobby Hutcherson was also the go-to-guy for anyone looking for a vibes player and played on over forty albums during his time at Blue Note Records. These albums featured the great  and good of jazz, and most of them were released on  Blue Note Records. 

In 1977, Bobby Hutcherson released Knucklebean which was his fifteenth solo album and his swan-song for Blue Note Records. It was the end of era for Bobby Hutcherson whose recording career began seventeen years earlier.

On the ‘3rd’ of August 1960 nineteen year old Bobby Hutcherson made his debut with the Les McCann Trio when they recorded a single that was released on Pacific Jazz in 1961.

Just over four months after making his recording debut, Bobby Hutcherson joined the Curtis Amy-Frank Butler Sextet when they recorded Groovin’ Blue on December the ‘10th’ 1960. This was the first of many albums that featured Bobby Hutcherson’s vibes.

In 1962, Bobby Hutcherson moved to New York as he was determined to make a career as a full-time jazz musician. He found a place to live in the Bronx and soon, was spending part of the time working as a session musician. The rest of the time he drove a taxi to supplement his income.This he knew was only a temporary arrangement.

That was the case. Bobby Hutcherson met his childhood friend, the bassist Herbie Lewis who at the time, was working with The Jazztet and also hosted jam sessions at his apartment. 

Bobby Hutcherson soon became a regular at the jam sessions which was where Grachan Moncur III who was a member of Jazztet and Jackie McLean’s band saw him play. Straight away, he realised that he might be a useful addition to Jackie McLean’s band and recommended him. When Jackie McLean heard him play, he asked him to join his band and he made his debut on the recording of One Step Beyond on April the ’30th’ 1963. This was also Bobby Hutcherson’s first session for Blue Note Records.

Over the new few months he played on three more Blue Note Records sessions. The first was on the ‘30th’ September when Jackie McLean recorded Destination… Out!  Then on the ‘4th’  and ‘15th’ of November, Bobby Hutcherson played on Grant Green’s classic album Idle Moments. Less than a week later, on the ‘21st’ of November Bobby Hutcherson played on the sessions for Grachan Moncur III’s album Evolution. However, Bobby Hutcherson still had one more album to record and this time it was his debut solo album The Kicker which has just been reissued by Blue Note Records as part of their Tone Poet Series.

On the ‘29th’ of December 1963, Bobby Hutcherson and his band journeyed to Van Gelder Studio, in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey where they would record The Kicker. Joining Bobby Hutcherson were drummer Al Harewood, bassist Bob Cranshaw,  pianist Duke Pearson and tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson. Guitarist Grant Green played on two of the six tracks on the album which was produced by Alfred Lion and engineered by Rudy Van Gelder.

Bobby Hutcherson only wrote one track on The Kicker, For Duke P. It was joined by a cover of Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe’s If Ever I Would Leave You, Joe Chambers’ Mirrors, Duke Pearson’s Bedouin plus Joe Henderson’s The Kicker and Step Lightly. These tracks were recorded during a one day session and became The Kicker.

Side One.

The album opens with Bobby Hutcherson’s reinvention of the ballad If Ever I Would Leave You. It starts off slowly and soon the band are moving up through the gears and have transformed this familiar and much-love ballad into an energetic example of hard bop where the all-star band are firing on all cylinders and showcasing their skills collectively and individually. 

Quite different is Mirrors where the tempo drops and Joe Henderson’s tenor saxophone and Bobby Hutcherson’s vibes play leading roles in this ruminative sounding track that encourage the listener to reflect.

The tempo increases on For Duke P which is the only Bobby Hutcherson composition on the album. He flits in and out the track playing with speed and precision. Meanwhile, Duke Pearson’s fingers dance across the keyboard with Joe Joe Henderson’s saxophone matching him every step of the way as the drums add a degree of drama. The result is a breathtaking and scorching track that showcases a talented composer and his band.

Side Two.

Grant Green joins the band on The Kicker which epitomises everything that’s good about hard bop. This includes a dazzling performance from Joe Henderson. His blazing saxophone is played with power and speed while Duke Pearson’s hands dance across and pound the piano keyboard. Later, the saxophone drops out and is replaced by what’s one of dizzying vibes solo before Grant Green steps forward and shows why he was regarded as one of jazz’s leading guitarist. However, it’s Duke Pearson who steals the show on what’s without doubt the highlight of the album.

The tempo drops on Step Lightly which is just over fourteen minutes long. It starts off slowly with the rhythm section, slinky piano and tenor saxophone combining. The playing is understated with the band playing within themselves. However, it’s effective and Grant Green’s guitar solo is proof of this. Then when the solos come round they enjoy the opportunity to showcase their considerable skills. This includes bandleader and vibes virtuoso Bobby Hutcherson, pianist Duke Pearson and tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson who play their part in this beautiful blues based track where this talented band Step Lightly on another of The Kicker’s highlights. 

Joe Henderson wrote Bedouin which closes The Kicker and his tenor saxophone and Duke Pearson’s piano are to the fore as the rhythm section playing briskly and inject some swing. Spurts of rapid fire saxophone are sprayed across the arrangement. A motif is repeated on the piano before the saxophone starts to play a freedom and swings. Meanwhile, stabs of piano and the repeated motif combine with a chirping, crystalline guitar before the vibes enter and a lengthy solo unfolds. Later, a slinky piano and drum rolls are added to a track that sometimes is mesmeric and is always memorable, melodic and swings.

When Bobby Hutcherson left Van Gelder Studio on the ’29th’ of December 1963, he must have thought it was only a matter of time before Blue Note Records released his debut album. He and his all-star band had recorded an album of hard bop and blues based jazz that had the potential to launch his solo career. However, The Kicker wasn’t released in 1964.

That was despite him winning the Talent Deserving Of Wider Recognition award in the 1964 DownBeat readers’ poll. The Kicker had been shelved indefinitely and what should’ve been Bobby Hutcherson’s debut album lay unreleased in the Blue Note Records’ vaults.

Bobby Hutcherson wasn’t alone and many artists signed to Blue Note Records recorded albums that weren’t released until much later. Sometimes, thirty or forty years passed before the albums were released and occasionally the artist had died by the time the album was released. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case with Bobby Hutcherson.

Somewhat belatedly The Kicker was released by Blue Note Records in 1999, and at last, jazz aficionados were able to hear Bobby Hutcherson’s lost classic of blues based jazz and hard bop for the first time. 

Twenty-one years later and The Kicker is now regarded as a jazz classic, and Blue Note Records have reissued the album as part of their Tone Poet Series. It’s a welcome reissue of The Kicker which is a reminder of the prodigiously talented Bobby Hutcherson as he embarked on what was a long, illustrious and successful solo career.

Bobby Hutcherson-The Kicker.

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