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Bobby Hutcherson – Total Eclipse – Blue Note (vinyl reissue)

Bobby Hutcherson – Total Eclipse – Blue Note (1968) BST 8429/ 2014B0020431-01 stereo vinyl, 40:32 ****:

(Bobby Hutcherson – vibes; Harold Land – tenor saxophone, flute; Chick Corea – piano; Reggie Johnson – double bass; Joe Chambers – drums)

It is not surprising that Bobby Hutcherson became a vibraphonist after listening to Milt Jackson. He adopted some of the improvisational fluidity of Jackson but connected with a modern sense of harmonics and band play. As a member of Jackie McLean’s band (his debut was on the critically acclaimed One Step Beyond), he began a long, productive association with Blue Note Records. Gigs with Eric Dolpy, Dexter Gordon and Hank Mobley enhanced his reputation, but his career as a bandleader propelled his success. His Blue Note tenure (1963-1977) was second only to Horace Silver. At the core of this catalogue was Hutcherson’s union with saxophonist Harold Land that resulted in seven albums. With drummer Joe Chambers and pianists like Chick Corea, Stanley Cowell and Joe Sample, Hutcherson’s unique brand of hard bop/post-bop and mainstream jazz flourished.

Like many jazz greats, Hutcherson continued to record for different labels (Landmark, Columbia). A brief excursion into fusion resulted in Little B’s Poem, his most recognized composition He remained in demand as a sideman and worked with Sonny Rollins, Donald Byrd, Woody Shaw, Herbie Hancock, John Lewis Pharoah Sanders, Kenny Barron, Sonny Stitt and Roy Haynes, to name just a few. In 2004 he was an original member of the SF Jazz Collective and established two performing quartets in that decade. Hutcherson returned to Blue Note in 2014, releasing Enjoy The View, featuring Joey DeFrancesco, David Sanborn and Billy Hart.

As part of their 75th anniversary, Blue Note Records had re-mastered their vintage albums in hi-def resolutions of 96k and 192k. Now they have decided to release low-cost, higher-quality pressing of the original vinyl recordings, including the original packaging. One of these re-mastered vinyl albums is Total Eclipse. This was the first Bobby Hutcherson Blue Note album project with Harold Land. With mostly original compositions, this is a definitive representation of Hutcherson’s acumen as an ensemble leader (He also was active in Gerald Wilson’s orchestra, and incorporated complex arrangements into his work). Opening Side 1 is a hard bop swing opus, “Herzog”. This piece explodes and the furious pace never abates. Chick Corea starts off with percolating runs that lead into Hutcherson’s initial solo. And it is breathtaking in its flexibility. He expands the overall tonality and depth of the vibes. Reggie Johnson and Joe Chambers are a solid rhythm section. Chambers is a driving force (not unlike Philly Joe Jones) and provides subtle tempo breaks. Land contributes to the intensity with a hard-driving saxophone translation. At the end, the quintet unites with vibes and saxophone sharing a unison lead. The title cut has an ethereal, moody resonance. Land’s sax is smoky and evocative. Hutcherson is fluid, with a late night ambiance. His ascending and descending vibraphone technique is compelling. Corea adds a delicate, expressive interlude. Hutcherson is comfortable with his band mates and encourages their creativity. “Matrix” (a Corea song) is a variation on twelve-bar blues that cooks with Land burning on saxophone. Hutcherson matches his fury with scintillating eloquence. Chambers’ crashing drums bring a powerful energy to the jam.

“Same Shame” celebrates the fearless exploration of modern jazz. Anchored by a pulsating, Latin-tinged aesthetic, Hutcherson revels in versatility, offering a variety of tonal shadings. There is a graceful transition to a Chick Corea solo that is fresh and graceful. The finale (“Pompeian”) is an intriguing waltz that showcases Land on flute. The inherent chemistry between Land and Hutcherson is palpable. The group engages in a swirling blend of sound that envelops this ballad. Artistry and emotional depth are merged in musical context.

This vinyl re-mastering is a definite improvement over the 1960s analog technology. It is not as dynamic as hi-res digital format, but still manages to capture the warmth and texture of jazz instrumentation. The vibraphone shading is subtle (especially on a track-ending fade). Tenor and flute sound organic, not harsh. Liner notes by Herb Wong provide a back story to the album. A picture of a smiling, cigarette-dangling Hutcherson is a glimpse of 1968 personal style. Total Eclipse is a good jazz album, and reasonably priced (under $20) as well!

TrackList:

Side 1: Herzog; Total Eclipse; Matrix
Side 2: Same Shame; Pompeian

—Robbie Gerson

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