Bobby Hutcherson in 1968: Patterns

By Carl Glatzel, Editor

An artist whose musical prowess can still be felt in today’s youth-centric jazz scene, Bobby Hutcherson cut his teeth in the service of such legends as Eric Dolphy, Archie Shepp and Jackie McLean. His choice of instruments, the vibraphone, may have kept him out of the limelight — earning him favorable reviews but never achieving super stardom on the international scene. Hutcherson’s notoriety had as much to do with his recordings as sideman as his sessions as leader. When Hutcherson did take helm of a session modern jazz listeners were sure to enjoy the transcendent mix of cerebral compositions and angular interplay. His playing was different from his contemporaries on the instrument, more lyrical and mellower perhaps — at least in the post-avant-garde years. In the early to mid-60s, however, one could hear his percussive accents beaten out blacksmith-style.

Patterns, 1968

The late-60s witnessed the emergence of another side of Hutcherson, still brimming with creativity, although, without the blunt-nosed abandon of his younger days. He also maintained the company of forward-thinking musicians, all of whom were virtuosos in their own right. An outstanding recording exemplifying this matured approach is Patterns from 1968 on the Blue Note Records label. It begins on a mysterious note with the track “Effi” — Stanley Cowell’s composition dedicated to his wife. With the feel of traversing through a dark, dense forest, “Effi” captivates the listener and moves him to another place altogether. James Spaulding’s flute solo weaves a fine tapestry — one with all the filigree to be expected, yet, all the while holding the listener in a somber state of mind. “Effi”, and more specifically Spaulding and Hutcherson’s interplay, reminds one of all the beauty in this world in spite of its dark corners.

Joe Chambers, drums. Photograph by Francis Wolff © Mosaic Images.

“A Time to Go”, composed by Spaulding as a tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., is perhaps the most melancholy track Hutcherson ever cut as a leader, with the possible exception of “Bouquet” from his 1966 outing on Happenings, also on Blue Note. More a vehicle for Spaulding’s extended flute solo, “A Time To Go” offers up reflection, heavy with emotion. Spaulding’s high notes are tightly crisp and his buoyant ideas are kept modern and succinct, never overtly saccharine.

On Patterns, Spaulding dishes out some of his best, and sadly underrated, alto work alongside Hutcherson’s bright vibes.

In stark contrast, the title track brings with it a sense of lilting intensity. On Patterns, Spaulding dishes out some of his best, and sadly underrated, alto work alongside Hutcherson’s bright vibes. Both race toward their respective ends in quick and sure-footed solos. Heated interplay is key to this track and its non-stop action doesn’t disappoint.

Stanley Cowell, piano

Irina, which pulls a drowsy cover over this session, resonates with the same sense of loss found in “A Time To Go”. Stanley Cowell’s delicate solo work on piano is pushed to the forefront. It’s a classic Hutcherson ballad, much in the same vein as “When You Are Near” on Happenings or “Summer Nights” on Stick Up! both from 1966.

On the last track, Nocturnal, drummer/composer Joe Chambers makes use of Reggie Workman on double bass as pure foundation. Workman, a jazz veteran at this point, lays down a deep groove on which Hutcherson and Spaulding effortlessly skate across — pushing and pulling the composition in many directions. Spaulding’s alto emerges out of Hutcherson’s driving solo and soars upward and out, breaking through the cacophony laid down by the outside-minded Chambers on the kit. “Nocturnal” proves to be focused and wild all at once, a brilliant piece of jazz and an ideal end to a truly unique and personal listening experience.

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