Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Where the mystery lies: Goodbye, Bobby Hutcherson

One of my favorite sound series in recorded music occurs during a five-second span here, from 6:11 to 6:16:

Bobby Hutcherson:
Tony Williams: Thud-thud

Bobby Hutcherson: Clang!
Tony Williams: Thud-thud

Bobby Hutcherson: Clang!
Tony Williams: Thud-thud

That passage, to me, epitomizes Blue Note's glorious mid-'60s flowering, of which Hutcherson was such a vital part: this quality of poised, wired, almost perverse exploration that, on records like Out to Lunch!, contrasted with breathtaking cohesion and musicality. (The title track of Dialogue and "The Omen" from Happenings — recorded, respectively, roughly a year and two years after OTL!, and featuring Hutcherson on marimba as well as vibes — embody a similarly adventurous spirit while pursuing a spookier mood — free jazz that had nothing to do with Fire Music, per se; this was genuine collective, spontaneous, open-ended, genre-transcendent soundmaking.) These are the records that made me a Jazz Person, all honorary Bobby Hutcherson Dates whether or not he was the nominal leader: Evolution, One Step Beyond, Judgment, Andrew!!!, Dialogue, Components, Happenings, Destination Out and others that I'd discover later on, like Time for Tyner, Oblique and Patterns.

Hutcherson also had a knack for a very unguarded sort of tenderness — hear his own joyful waltz "Little B's Poem" — as well as an almost psychedelic command of texture. Hear Andrew Hill's "Alfred," on which he doesn't solo but nevertheless brings to the theme statements a magical quality of otherworldly singing — that sense of shimmering space, a quintessential expression of the vibraphone's potential. (Walt Dickerson was another vibes player who loved to build up waves upon waves of a kind of sonic gel, inviting the listener to come and float and surrender.)

Listen, for example, to what happens around 3:20 here:

Bobby Hutcherson goes texture-mad, exploding his solo into a ringing, singing soundmist.

And at the other end of the spectrum, you have his somewhat more conventional contributions to an album like Destination Out, where he plays a pianist's role in the ensemble but still revels in his instrument's idiosyncrasy.

Hutcherson was integral to the Jackie McLean / Grachan Moncur III concept, explored here as well as on One Step Beyond and Evolution; his odd, bulbous protrusions, metallic yet also pillowy, helped to sharpen the bracing whiff of eccentricity these records give off. Like Out to Lunch!, these are piquant albums, subtle in their way but insistent in the way they stand apart from hardbop convention. Almost like a synth player or electric guitarist might function in a jazz group several years later, Hutcherson helped to give this music an almost sci-fi quality. He sounded like the future.

Many of the albums discussed above are compiled into this Spotify playlist.

I'm no expert on Hutcherson's later work, such as the celebrated band with Harold Land, in which he seemed to lay back a bit more, elevating the jazz mainstream with his ever-classy approach rather than exploring the margins. This would be the kind of track that my younger self would have been likely to gloss over or even dismiss, but now I just hear it as a consummately well-rounded musician exploring another side of his talent:

For more of Bobby in the '70s, check out this great archived WFIU radio show hosted by David Brent Johnson. Hutcherson's discography starts to get a bit unwieldy in this later Blue Note period and beyond. I'd be grateful for any recommendations re: his essential albums that fall outside the "classic" mid-to-late-'60s phase discussed above.

Thank you, Bobby Hutcherson, who helped to draw me in closer to what, for me, is the very center of jazz, where the mystery lies.


*Nate Chinen's very eloquent NYT obit, which hits on some excellent descriptions of Hutcherson's textural command: "luminescent and coolly fluid"; "resonating overtones and chiming decay"; "coloristic range of sound."

*Peter Hum's remembrance, featuring a collection of musician tributes, is a great read.

*A fascinating Hutcherson anecdote concerning the rehearsals for Out to Lunch!


1 comment:

Tony Alexander said...

A great album from 82 is SOLO QUARTET on Contemporary. One side solo overdubbed, amazing with vibes marimbas and other percussion instruments. The other side a great quartet with McCoy Tyner, Herbie Lewis and Billy Higgins. An incredible performance from 74 is on McCoy's album SAMA LAYUCA, which was my intro to Bobby's magic.