Bobby Hutcherson – Now!
BlueNote Records (BST 84333)
This reissue BN 73164
The first time I ever heard Bobby Hutcherson was probably on Eric Dolphy’s “Out To Lunch.” Even though everything on that album is noteworthy, memorable, and intriguing, I found Hutcherson’s work there particularly deserving of those superlatives. Capable of delicate texture and agile flight in his playing, he more than earns his reputation of a big fish in a rather small pond (post-bop vibraphonists). This album is something of a best-kept secret – the presence of not only Harold Land, whose other collaborations with Hutcherson are acclaimed by critics and audiences, but also Eugene McDaniels and Candido, should make this record stand out on anyone’s radar.
Eugene McDaniels’ career had one of the strangest trajectories in music: coming into his art as a bop jazz crooner who would sometimes share stages with Miles Davis, Cannonball Adderley, and Ornette Coleman, and then being catapulted to pop stardom with a string of R&B hit records in the 60s, morphing into a politicized soul-jazz-funk artist who made two amazing albums for Atlantic in the early 70s, then writing some notable songs (including a #1 hit) for Roberta Flack, and then mostly disappearing. These sessions were cut slightly before his landmark “Outlaw” album was released (coming soon to a blog near you, by the way).
The usage of a vocal chorus on this album remind me somewhat of “Up With Donald Byrd” (1965) but way more abstract. The album “Now!” is associated with Black Power consciousness. McDaniels’ lyrics may not be as weirdly radical as on his own Atlantic releases that inspired Kissinger to suggest wiretapping his house or whatever, but they are still pretty out-there. They unfold more in the form of tone-poems than straightforward lyrics. Some of them are rather hard to make out (the song ‘Now!’ for example) and a search around the interwebs yielded no results for transcriptions. Here are some samples from the opening cut –
Free soul soul free touch me heal you change
Lock your lost key touch me heal you change
Free soul soul free touch me free me
Touch the spiral falling upwards
God is watching, God is dying, slow change
Anchoring the quintet is drummer Joe Chambers, whose albums credits also include Freddie Hubbard, Wayne Shorter, Andrew Hill, McCoy Tyner, Charles Mingus, and Archie Shepp. His work, described somewhere as “cymbal-driven forward motion” is propulsive and staggering, bringing that motion to the brink of collapse in places, a mimetic counterpoint to the lyrics.
The next track, “Hello To The Wind”, written by Chambers, is gorgeous in description-defying ways. It would be better to let the listener to experience this with no preambling words of introduction or commentary. It grabs you from the opening measures of the guitar arpeggios and McDaniels voice. A little more than halfway through this piece McDaniels breaks into some vocalizations that fall somewhere between Qallawi singing and Leon Thomas, curling my toenails and raising the hair on the back of my neck, and Candido breaks into very heavy and relentless santería territory on the congas. This cut might well be the best example I can think of that blends accessible melodic figures (damn near ‘pop music’) dropped amid post-bop intimations of free jazz
I was thinking the other day that I have most likely overused the word “haunting” during the nearly two years this blog has been active . What do we mean when we call a piece of music haunting? Do we mean that a melodic line lingers in our consciousness long after the music comes to a stop? Wouldn’t we just call that “catchy”? Or is it the sensation of that melody, harmonic internal, rhythmic change, coming back hours and hours later, “coming back to haunt us”? Does it remind us of things we can’t forget, or refuse to forget? Or do not want to forget. Not yet. All the tales of wandering spirits roaming among us have at least this much in common – that such shades and ghosts call to us because they have not received the proper rites required for a peaceful rest in the afterworld. This is where the difference between forgetting and letting go is salient. There are things we should not, ever, forget – the experience of love found or faded; our friends and ancestors gone from this earth; the rape of your land, your sisters and mothers; the enslavement of your people. Finding peace is no easy road and there are plenty of reasons we might not want to find it, or let it find us. We become haunted. It abets our hunger for vengeance or vindication, it is aided by the sting of slights, loss, and injustice. The song “Now!” was composed by Hutcherson for a lost friend, the bassist Albert Stinson.
After the song-suite of the first side, the second side of this record stretches out. Wally Richardson plunks down dissonant squalls of understated guitar on “The Creators,” the electric piano of Stanley Cowell punching out a carpet of sound, the bass and drums locked in a smoky and deliciously repetitive paean to the old gods ending in hand-claps and more Candido. The final cut “Black Heroes” is more hard bop and the lyrics here are the ones most obviously connected with black consciousness and civil rights. The word “now” again enters our awareness. “Lies are wearing so thin the people can see through them now. Now. Freedom now! Right now!” Harold Land takes the first solo, twisting around the main theme in contortions of Coltrane; Hutcherson follows with quick jolts to our blood pressure. Be careful. Did I mention Bobby Hutcherson is on this record? I haven’t talked about him much because it goes without saying that he is in his element here as master of ceremonies. This album qualifies for the Flabbergast stock phrase of “a singular addition to his discography.” It really is. I wouldn’t lie to you.
After the original album are bonus tracks from a 1978 platter called “Blue Note Meets the L.A. Philharmonic” (BN-LA870) that also featured Carmen McRae and Earl Klugh. Normally these Blue Note CD’s feature alternate takes from the same sessions, a practice that tends to appeal mostly to the jazz fanatics. But this time it’s quite different, as we get to hear the song-suite from the original album’s first half played 8 years later with full orchestra and new arrangements. I miss the inspired playing of the original quintet (especially Chambers and Land) but these guys aren’t chopped liver either and Eddie Marshall lays down some serious funk. The real treat here is the orchestra, giving a fifth dimension to what were already transcendent pieces of music. The sound is nothing short of stunning on this live recording. Bereft of McDaniel’s lyrics, the orchestra still manages to bring out the grace and fluidity of his contributions, hanging in the air like an after-image on our aural retinas. After the reprise of “Now!” we can hear an enchanted audience in what is almost certainly a standing ovation. Rather than the often-repetitive alternate takes for the jazz scholar, this addition to the CD version is a wonderful coda to what may be Hutcherson’s most overlooked album.
1 Slow Change 7:14
2 Hello To The Wind 5:56
3 Now 2:44
4 The Creators 12:32
5 Black Heroes 7:03
6 Slow Change 5:05
7 Now 2:49
8 Hello To The Wind 3:06
9 Now (Reprise) 1:43
Personnel: Tracks 1 – 5: Bobby Hutcherson: Vibraphone; Harold Land: Tenor Sax; Kenny Barron: Piano; Stanley Cowell: Piano; Herbie Lewis: Bass; Joe Chambers: Drums: Wally Richardson: Guitar, Electric Guitar; Candido Camero: Conga; Gene McDaniels: Vocals; Hilda Harris: Vocals; Albertine Robinson: Vocals; Christine Spencer: Vocals.
Tracks 6 – 9: Bobby Hutcherson: Vibraphone Manny Boyd: tenor and soprano saxophone; George Cables: piano; James Leary: bass; Eddie Marshall: drums; Bobbye Porter Hall: percussion; Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Calvin Simmons.