Bobby Hutcherson in 1968: Total Eclipse

By Carl Glatzel, Editor

Recorded in July of 1968, Total Eclipse offers a lean and progressive sound. Although featuring a top-flight quintet, much like Patterns from March of the same year, its minimal aesthetic is evident. One could attribute the spare soundscape to the pianist on the date, Chick Corea. Less prone to embellishments than his Patterns counterpart, Corea embodies a wholly modern approach to piano. A contemporary of Herbie Hancock, the two share a similar tact on keyboard when comping behind soloists as well as a later fascination with fusion and electronics. Corea’s contribution can be felt throughout this 1968 session.

The album springs to life with an upbeat track entitled “Herzog”. With Hutcherson’s main collaborator, Harold Land, firmly planted in the tenor seat a theme is established and Corea takes the lead with a brisk-paced solo. Hutcherson punctuates throughout until he takes a solo which matches Corea’s in speed and invention. Joe Chambers and Reggie Johnson shore up any loose ends while keeping perfect time on drums and double bass respectively. Harold Land then takes over for Hutcherson and wails on his outing. A perfect foil for Corea, Land is also uniquely modern in his approach to tenor. At times he plays with outside leanings but never moves above middle register — a straight arrow for tenor in 1968.

A perfect foil for Corea, Land is also uniquely modern in his approach to tenor.

Up next is the title track, “Total Eclipse”, which slows down the quintet’s pace to a contemplative mood. The slower time signature offers Land more space to explore which comes as a benefit to the listener. Here is where Land excels and shines with a signature solo — breezy, earthy and tasteful. Corea also takes advantage of the space and comps beautifully behind Land, punctuating his lines yet staying out of the tenor giant’s gait. Clocking in at just shy of 9 minutes, “Total Eclipse” has enough space for every lead voice and Hutcherson moves forward with a gentlemanly approach to his solo. Much more concise than Land’s, Hutcherson bows out quickly to allow Corea more time to feel his way around. And just like Land, Corea shines in this hushed environment. With the bottom-end firmly planted by Johnson and Chambers, Corea is granted access to investigate the terrain with an abstract solo.

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Harold Land, tenor saxophone. Photograph by Francis Wolff © Mosaic Images.

“Matrix”, the following track and penned by Corea, picks things up again and pushes Land out in front with a rough and tumble solo. We hear Land approaching the top of his register which adds to the intensity of the track. While Chambers bubbles and churns underneath, Hutcherson takes an extended solo displaying his quick dexterity on the unwieldy instrument. After a somewhat free outing Hutcherson allows Corea to venture in and take the reins. After a short burst of energy on the keyboard, the quintet returns to the theme and closes it out.

A seeming roller coaster of emotions, the session takes another turn down a melancholy avenue with the following track, “Same Shame”. At nearly 9-1/2 minutes, this track unfolds slowly allowing each member ample time in the spotlight. After Hutcherson’s mid-tempo solo, Land slows things down at the beginning of his outing but Corea and Chamber’s edgy comping styles push the tenor player to more agitated activity. Corea again takes full advantage of the allotted space and lays down a brilliant solo. The languid lines of the theme fold back in on itself and ends the dreamy track.

The real standout of this session anchors the album in truly modern panache, the final track, “Pompeian”, features a sweet and sour approach — a compositional style used on sessions past by Hutcherson’s former session leader, Jackie McLean.

The real standout of this session anchors the album in truly modern panache, the final track, “Pompeian”, features a sweet and sour approach — a compositional style used on sessions past by Hutcherson’s former session leader, Jackie McLean. A straight-forward theme carried throughout the composition is repeated by the quintet which is then dissected by abstract interludes used as a means to jointly solo. Land is at home on flute which flutters throughout the stormy turbulence. Chambers finds himself in familiar territory which harkens back a few years to albums like 1965’s Components. Either an apparition of Hutcherson’s former days in the avant-garde or a foreshadowing of things to come — it’s hard to say. Whatever it is it’s amazing and it totally engulfs the listener. One does not have long to wait for what comes next in this auditory game of cat and mouse. “Pompeian” is a somewhat unorthodox end to what some say is a transitional album — one is at a loss for what exactly may come next in Hutcherson’s outstanding catalog.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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Big John Patton’s “Understanding” Misunderstood

By Carl Glatzel, Editor
Photograph by Francis Wolff © Mosaic Images.

I usually use AllMusic.com as a litmus test for unfamiliar recordings. I’m glad I went with my gut when I found a 1995 Blue Note re-issue of Big John Patton’s Understanding at a local, used book store. If I had gone with the AllMusic critic’s opinion I would have avoided it like the plague and tossed it aside. For the uninitiated, Patton is an organist who came to prominence on the Blue Note label in the early-60s. He was known for his economical, modern approach and inspired, bluesy solos. One of the few organists of the era to dodge the Jimmy Smith comparison.

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Understanding, 1968

After outputting a handful of releases with label regulars Grant Green and Lou Donaldson he ventured off into some uncharted territory. The 1968 release Understanding is not truly a dramatic departure but it does house some free playing by saxophonist Harold Alexander and that is what AllMusic took issue with. It’s stated to somehow interrupt the groove and comes across as disjointed and out of place. Perhaps to the untrained ear, or to a listener not familiar with or accustomed to the unorthodox sounds of Pharaoh Sanders or the other artists from the Impulse! New Thing stable. Alexander’s playing is by no means that of Peter Brotzman or a young Gato Barbieri. To these ears, it comes off as more to do with exuberance, where the spirit of the session takes the helm. Understanding still defaults to a soul jazz category and it’s easy to dismiss free (or freer) playing in this arena, but one listen to this vibrant interplay and you’ll fall into the groove and won’t want to leave. Patton is at the top of his game and his bandmates push him to his swinging limit. The trio is rounded off by Hugh Walker on drums who gives his all — keeping a steady, turbulent backbeat under the soulful wailing laid down by Patton and Alexander. This is music to drive to, you’ll want to be moving and moving quickly.

Patton is at the top of his game and his bandmates push him to his swinging limit.

Right from the opener “Ding Dong” you know exactly where you stand – this is some heavy-duty soul and these players aren’t about to let up. That’s what’s so enticing about this particular release, the raw sounds of Alexander’s sax really churns the already boiling pot. Each player builds on one another adding more fuel to the fire, keeping things interesting. This certainly isn’t the Soul Jazz recordings of previous years — dare I say — in some ways it’s even better. Patton proves he’s not afraid to go out on a limb with a loose canon like Alexander. The addition of Walker on drums is a great move, his style adds some necessary backbone to help ground a free range player like Alexander. Patton is spot on, as usual, with soloing and his signature basslines. It’s Patton’s buoyant, almost hypnotic, bass that really adds a sense of forward motion to each track. His lines are deceptively simple, undulating deep down under Walker’s rock-steady drumming — the album’s blood and guts.

This certainly isn’t the Soul Jazz recordings of previous years — dare I say — in some ways it’s even better.

It’s now time to go out and seek this holy grail of groove. And when you do, you’ll want to turn up your hi-fi and tune out the naysayers.

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