CULT CLASSIC: BOBBY HUTCHERSON-OBLIQUE.
Cult Classic: Bobby Hutcherson-Oblique.
On July the ‘21st’ 1967, Bobby Hutcherson journeyed to Van Gelder Studio, in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, to record Oblique which was his sixth solo album for Blue Note Records. It was just the second album he had recorded with a quartet.
The first was Happenings, an album of modal hard bop and hard bop which was recorded on February the ‘6th’ 1966 and featured pianist Herbie Hancock. When Happenings was released in late January 1967 it was to widespread critical acclaim.
Just seventeen months later, and Bobby Hutcherson and Herbie Hancock were reunited and were joined by drummer Joe Chambers and bassist Albert Stinson as they travelled to Van Gelder Studio to record Oblique. It marked a stylistic departure for Bobby Hutcherson and resulted in one of the finest albums of his career. His recording career began in 1960 but jazz had always been part of Bobby Hutcherson’s life.
The future vibes virtuosos was born on January the ’27th’ 1941. His was father Eli was a master mason and his mother Esther was a hairdresser. Growing up, Bobby Hutcherson was introduced to jazz by his brother Teddy who listened to Art Blakey records with his friend Dexter Gordon. Meanwhile, Bobby Hutcherson’s elder sister Peggy was a singer in Gerald Wilson’s orchestra and her boyfriend was Eric Dolphy. She introduced to her younger brother to her boyfriend and also tenor saxophonist Billy Mitchell. However, it was after hearing Milt Jackson play Bemsha Swing on Miles Davis All Stars, Volume 2 that Bobby Hutcherson decided to learn to play the vibes.
By the late-fifties, Bobby Hutcherson who was still in his late teens had embarked upon a career as a professional musician. He worked with tenor saxophonist Curtis Amy, trumpeter Carmell Jones, Eric Dolphy and tenor saxophonist Charles Lloyd at the Pandora’s Box on the Sunset Strip. This was all good experience for Bobby Hutcherson.
He made his recording debut on August the ‘3rd’ 1960, when he recorded two tracks with the Les McCann Trio who were signed to Pacific Jazz. The single was released in 1961. By then, Bobby Hutcherson’s career was well underway.
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.
Recording of The Kicker took place on the ‘29th’ of December 1963, at Van Gelder Studio. 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.
Sadly, Bobby Hutcherson’s debut album The Kicker was shelved and wasn’t released until 1999. When it was belatedly released jazz fans heard a blistering album of hard bop and blues from Bobby Hutcherson’s all-star quintet.
When Bobby Hutcherson returned to Van Gender Studio on April ‘3rd’ 1965 to record his second album he led a sextet that featured some top musicians. This included drummer Joe Chambers, double bassist Richard Davis, pianist Andrew Hill, trumpeter Freddie Hubbard and Sam Rivers who switched between bass clarinet, flute plus soprano and tenor saxophone. They recorded what was one of the most ambitious and adventurous albums of Bobby Hutcherson’s career.
The music on Dialogue was complex as the sextet combined avant-garde, free jazz, Latin, modal jazz and post-bop with social comment. The album Latin-tinged album opener Catta was regarded as the most conventional on the album but was recorded in 8/4 time. Dialogue was a truly ambitious album.
When Dialogue was released in September 1965 to widespread critical acclaim. Despite this being the second album Bobby Hutcherson had recorded it was regarded as his debut and critics called it one of the finest jazz debuts of recent years.
Three months before the release of Components, Bobby Hutcherson recorded the third album of his carer, Tranquillity. Just like his two previous albums it was produced by Alfred Lion. However, the sextet he led at the Van Gelder Studio on June the ‘14th’ 1965 was a quite different band from the one that featured on Components.
This included drummer Joe Chambers, double bassist Ron Carter, pianist Herbie Hancock, trumpeter Freddie Hubbard and James Spaulding on flute and alto saxophone. They recorded eight tracks including four written by Bobby Hutcherson while the other four were penned by James Spaulding. These eight tracks showed the two sides of the sextet.
The four tracks on the first side were penned by Bobby Hutcherson and found the sextet playing in the hard bop style. Then on the second side it’s all change on the James Spaulding compositions as the album heads in the direction of avant-garde. Components was hailed as another innovative album that won over critics when and was released to critical acclaim in November 1966. Bobby Hutcherson’s finest moment was Components which became his best-known composition. By then, he had only released two album but was already regarded as one of jazz’s rising stars.
For the followup to Components, Bobby Hutcherson wrote six of the seven tracks that featured on Happenings. The other track was a cover of Herbie Hancock’s Maiden Voyage. These tracks were recorded at Van Gelder Studio on February the ‘8th’ 1966 by a quartet.
This was a first for Bobby Hutcherson who had never led a quartet as a bandleader. He was joined by drummer Joe Chambers, bassist Bob Cranshaw and pianist Herbie Hancock while Alfred Lion took charge of production and Rudy Van Gelder engineered the Happenings’ sessions.
Happenings was released to plaudits and praise by Blue Note Records at the end of January 1967 and was album of post-bop that sometimes, had an experimental sound. It was another ambitious album from Bobby Hutcherson who constantly was seeking to reinvent his music. This he succeeded in doing.
Just five months after the recording of Happenings, Bobby Hutcherson was back at Van Gelder Studio on July the ‘14th’ 1966 for the recording of Stick-Up! The twenty-five year old vibes and marimba player wrote five of the six tracks and decided to cover Ornette Coleman’s Una Muy Bonita.
Just like previous albums, Stick-Up! was produced by Alfred Lion and the engineer was Rudy Van Gelder. However, the lineup of the band had changed beyond recognition. Billy Higgins replaced drummer Joe Chambers and joined bassist Herbie Lewis, pianist McCoy Tyner and tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson. Despite that, Bobby Hutcherson’s new quintet had managed to record a classic jazz album.
Stick-Up! wasn’t released until April 1968 and found Bobby Hutcherson’s quintet flitting between avant-garde and hard bop on what was hailed as a groundbreaking album. It’s now regarded as a classic and just like Components, is another of Bobby Hutcherson’s finest albums.
Disaster struck for Bobby Hutcherson in 1967 when he and and Joe Chambers were arrested for marijuana possession in New York’s Central Park. They both lost their cabaret card and Bobby Hutcherson also lost his taxi driver’s license. Unable to play in New York’s clubs he moved to California, eventually settling in San Francisco. However, Bobby Hutcherson continued to record for Blue Note Records.
He returned to Van Gelder Studio on July the ‘21st’ 1967. Over a year had passed since he recorded his previous album Stick-Up! During that period, Bobby Hutcherson had written Til Then, My Joy and Subtle Neptune for his new album Oblique. These tracks were joined by Herbie Hancock’s Theme from Blow Up and two Joe Chambers’ compositions Oblique and Bi-Sectional. They were recorded by Bobby Hutcherson’s quartet.
The lineup featured drummer Joe Chambers, bassist Albert Stinson, pianist Herbie Hancock and Bobby Hutcherson on vibes. Rudy Van Gelder was in charge of engineering duties and Alfred Lion produced by Alfred Lion.
Much of the music on Oblique was complex, especially the trio of Bobby Hutcherson compositions. The first of his compositions is Til Then a samba-tinged ballad which breezes along.
It’s followed by another Bobby Hutcherson composition the baroque influenced My Joy.When the solos come around vibes virtuoso Bobby Hutcherson and pianist Herbie Hancock are at the top of their game as they improvise. They play with speed and power before only the piano remains. Its sound is elegant and slinky as it plays a starring role before he stabs and jabs the keyboard before the baton passes to bassist Albert Stinson. However, when the piano returns its joyous, beautiful and full of hope on what’s one of the highlights of Oblique.
Theme From “Blow Up” is best describes as a slow burner. The piano led arrangement is understated with the vibes joining as it builds gradually. Herbie Hancock plays with confidence his fingers darting and dancing across the keyboard. Not to be outdone Bobby Hutcherson unleashes a breathtaking solo where he plays four mallets. The piano and vibes combine as the rhythm section accompany them as the quartet effortlessly combine straight ahead jazz with languid funky fusion on a stunning cover of this iconic Herbie Hancock composition.
Subtle Neptune is akin to musical sunshine as the quartet combine sashaying Brazilian rhythms with post-bop. It’s a truly irresistible combination. Resistance is impossible. The result is like a call to dance that’s guaranteed to brighten up even the darkest day.
Free thinking drummer Joe Chambers wrote the two other tracks on the album including Oblique. The quartet’s playing is hard driving and direct on this complicated example of post bop. Bobby Hutcherson unleashes an urgent and driving vibes solo and later, he’s accompanied by pianist Herbie Hancock who matches him every step of the way. When the piano drops out this leaves the coast clear for one of the finest and fastest vibes solos on the album. It’s followed by a darting, urgent and fleet-fingered piano solo before drummer Joe Chambers unleashes his finest solo on the album. Despite that, it’s the bandleader that steals the show on this romping and adventurous example of hard bop.
Closing Oblique is Bi-Sectional which is innovative example of collective improvisation. Although it’s one of the shortest tracks on the album, it finds the quartet pushing musical boundaries to their limits. In doing so, they dared to do what many other bands were reluctant to do on a groundbreaking, spacious and experimental cinematic track.
After the recording of Oblique was completed, Alfred Lion who was by then eighty decided to retire and the project was shelved. History was repeating itself for Bobby Hutcherson as the same thing had happened to his debut album The Kicker. This must have been hugely frustrating for him as he now had recorded six albums and only four had been released by Blue Note Records.
Oblique found Bobby Hutcherson picking up where he left off on Stick-Up! with an album that combined elements of avant-garde, free jazz, funk, fusion, hard bop and post bop. The quartet showcased their considerable talent and versatility throughout the album. Especially Bobby Hutcherson and Herbie Hancock who seemed to drive each other to even greater heights and play a starring role on Oblique.
If the album had been released in 1967 it would’ve built on the success of Stick-Up! and Bobby Hutcherson’s career would’ve continued to go from strength-to-strength. However, Alfred Lion’s decision to retire and his arrest for possession of marijuana derailed his career.
Bobby Hutcherson returned to Van Gelder Studio on March the ‘14th’ 1968 where he led a quintet as they recorded is seventh album Patterns. Sadly, it was also shelved and was only released in 1980.
Blue Note Records was home to Bobby Hutcherson throughout his career. He recorded The Kicker in 1963 and over the next fourteen years, 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.
Sixteen years later in 1993 McCoy Tyner and Bobby Hutcherson released a new album on Blue Note Records, Manhattan Moods. The album was well received by critics but there was no followup or sign of Bobby Hutcherson making a comeback.
That was until vibes virtuoso Bobby Hutcherson returned on the ‘24th’ June 2014 with his first solo album in thirty-seven years, Enjoy The View. It was well received by critics who were looking forward to the followup and wondering what direction Bobby Hutcherson’s music was head.
Sadly, Bobby Hutcherson passed away on the ‘15th’ of August 2016 aged just seventy-five. That day jazz last one of the greatest vibes players ever. During his long and illustrious career Bobby Hutcherson redefined the vibraphone’s emotional pull and what it could do melodically, sonically and technically. He also introduced a new generation to the vibes and the marimba which he also played.
On Oblique, Bobby Hutcherson only plays the vibes on the six track. His playing is absolutely flawless and he unleashes a series of breathtaking solos on Oblique a genre-melting album which was belatedly released in 1980 and was one of the finest albums he recorded for Blue Note Records.
Cult Classic: Bobby Hutcherson-Oblique.
- Posted in: Avant Garde ♦ Free Jazz ♦ Funk ♦ Hard Bop ♦ Improv ♦ Jazz Fusion ♦ Latin ♦ Modal Jazz ♦ Post Bop
- Tagged: Albert Stinson, Alfred Lion, Blue Note Records, Bobby Hutcherson, Components, Dialogue, Enjoy The View, Happenings, Herbie Hancock, Joe Chambers, Oblique, Rudy Van Gelder, Stick-Up!, The Kicker, Van Gelder Studio