Steve Hobbs – Tribute to Bobby – Challenge

by | Jul 17, 2018 | Jazz CD Reviews

More than just tribute.

Steve Hobbs – Tribute to Bobby [TrackList follows] – Challenge CR73433, 65:10 [1/5/18] ****:

(Steve Hobbs – marimba, vibes; Adam Kolker – tenor and soprano saxophone; Bill O’Connell – piano; Peter Washington – bass; John Riley – drums)

Vibraphonist Steve Hobbs’ 65-minute album Tribute to Bobby did not start out as a homage to Hobbs’ mentor and friend, famed vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson. But the 13-track CD was turned into an accolade when Hutcherson passed away the day before this session was taped. While there are no Hutcherson compositions, listeners can feel Hutcherson’s palpable personality in the music and performances. In other ways, Tribute to Bobby also pays respect to other musicians, some who are still alive (Bob Dylan) and others who are gone (Consuelo Velázquez, Horace Silver, Thelonious Monk). Essentially, Tribute to Bobby honors many aspects of modern music, jazz and otherwise.

Hobbs came to prominence in the late 1980s, and has performed with trumpeter Tom Harrell, Jazz Crusaders drummer Stix Hooper and continues to record with artists such as Kenny Barron. Hobbs has issued several solo records. Tribute to Bobby is the third with Hobbs’ current group, which comprises saxophonist Adam Kolker (he’s backed John Hébert, Rick Margitza, Bruce Barth and others); pianist Bill O’Connell (a long list of releases and has worked with Dave Valentin, Charles Fambrough and Emily Remler); bassist Peter Washington (see also Hutcherson, Art Blakey, Lee Konitz, the Bill Charlap Trio and Barron); and drummer John Riley (credits include John Scofield, Gary Peacock and John Patitucci). This stellar quintet tackles 10 Hobbs originals and three covers. The material encompasses post-bop, Latin, funk, calypso and other influences.

Portrait of Bobby Hutcherson

Bobby Hutcherson

The Latin jazz commences on Velázquez’s standard “Besame Mucho,” a mid-tempo and exquisitely-paced number with a mesmerizing O’Connell piano improvisation. Washington and Riley keep up a propulsive rhythm and Hobbs showcases his talents as well. “Besame Mucho” concludes with a brief coda which adds to the arrangement. Hobbs’s “Tres Vias” (basically ‘three ways’ in English) is arranged into three sections. Kolker utilizes his soprano sax in outstanding fashion, Hobbs brings in his marimba and O’Connell contributes more of his piano soloing. Hobbs’s swaying “El Sueno de Horace Silver” (English translation: “The Dream of Horace Silver”) is a Latin-tinged encomium to Silver, who was no stranger to Latin jazz. While the arrangement has plenty of Latin jazz cadences, it also has moments of mid-tempo bop connotations. Hobbs heads to another region on the Caribbean-flavored “Let’s Go to Abaco!,” named after a set of islands which are part of the northern Bahamas. Washington slips in a nuanced bass solo, O’Connell swings and rolls across his keyboard, and Riley digs deep into a steely percussive tone.

Hobbs’s groove-flecked “Thelonious Funk” was written to honor Hutcherson because Monk was one of Hutcherson’s inspirations. The intermediate pulse helps push the music along without overdoing the tune’s rhythm and groove. It is fair to say O’Connell’s piano runs venerate Monk. Meanwhile, Kolker’s sax maintains an oscillating verve. Two notable covers are must-hears. Hobbs provides a reverent and reflective approach to Dylan’s folk classic “Blowing in the Wind.” There’s enough re-arrangement to Dylan’s melody that some may not immediately recognize the piece. Hobbs’s vibes are masterful, while the rhythm section supplies a relaxed but not necessarily laid-back intonation. On the other hand, the quintet’s rendition of Rodgers and Hart’s “Where or When” is all up-tempo and quick-striding. The vibes, piano and rhythm players sustain a fast groove and acceleration. Snap your fingers throughout this 3:41 tune and you’ll probably sprain your thumb. Other highlights include the leaping “Into the Storm” and equally rapid “New Creation” and the lengthiest cut, the ballad “Millie,” a thoughtful musical portrait. There’s even an RnB/gospel track, the positive “The Road to Happy Destiny,” a hopeful piece which partially includes singers Marvin Thorne, Carol Ingbretsen and Maurice Myers. If you need a touch of church, try this. If you missed out on Hobbs’s Tribute to Bobby when it was released at the beginning of 2018, it’s time to discover this top-drawer album.

The Craving Phenomenon
Into the Storm
Besame Mucho
New Creation
Tres Vias
Thelonious Funk
The Road to Happy Destiny
Blowing in the Wind
El Sueno de Horace Silver
In from the Storm
Let’s Go Abaco!
Where or When

—Doug Simpson

Related Reviews