The physical nature of playing means that a musician's career can be scuttled by conditions that might only inconvenience others. British bassist Mick Hutton has been an in-demand player for over twenty-five years, working with artists including drummer Bill Bruford, pianist John Taylor and saxophonist Tim Garland. He was also a member of First House that, with pianist/hornist Django Bates, drummer Martin France and saxophonist Ken Stubbs, released two under-appreciated albums on ECM in the late 1980s. But when he tore a ligament a few years ago, his days of playing double-bass were over.
The world may have lost a fine bassist with a robust tone and unfailing ability to work in virtually any context, but it turns out that Hutton is a multi-instrumentalist who, in the early 1980s, taught piano, trumpet and trombone. Hutton has since refocused on composition, keyboards and, most notably, steel-pans. The digital download-only Live at Appleby 2004 is proof positive that a disadvantage can be turned into an opportunity. Not only is Hutton a versatile writer, but he's a fine steel-pan player who takes the instrument away from its usual Caribbean comfort zone into a multifaceted context that combines elements of swing, funk and free improvisation with, at times, electronic textures to broaden the aural landscape.
Hutton's The Boat-Rockers featuresalongside Hutton's pans, synthesizer, guitar-like cuatro and occasional electric bassdrums, percussion, keyboards, double-bass and saxophone/flute. "Running with Scissors" may possess an unmistakable Latin vibe bookended by a long-form but lyrical theme, but "Harpers Ferry," with its abstract and gradually intensifying introduction and eventual darkly funky pulse, is far removed from the Afro-Cuban sphere one might expect with such a percussion-heavy line-up.
While not always the primary focus, Hutton's pans do define The Boat-Rockers' sound; up front on the atmospheric and electronics-laden intro to "Looga Barooga," an elegant ballad also featuring pianist Mark Edwards, while adopting a more textural ensemble role on the rubato "Souvenir." He works comfortably in an accompaniment role with Edwards on "June 1815," which starts as an up-tempo duet featuring drummer Paul Robinson and saxophonist Andy Panayi, but shifts gears half-way into an insistent ballad, with Panayi remaining the dominant voice.
After the free interplay of "June 1815," the Odd Couple-like feel of "Salute to Cheyenne" takes the group into more mainstream territory, providing space for bassist Arnie Somogyi and Edwards' spare but densely layered piano solo. Hutton goes it largely alone on the intro to "Turing," supported only by percussionists Robinson and Gary Hammond, leading into its ambling, easygoing core, where Edwards, Panayi and Somogyi all contribute melodically focused solos.
Hutton may no longer be able to play double-bass, but with Live at Appleby 2004 he's bounced back as a writer of easy-on-the-ears but substantive material, a multi-instrumentalist who gives the steel-pans a new identity, and the leader of a fine group that, since this is a 2004 recording, is hopefully still active.
The entire fifteen-track download (or individual tracks) is available at Hutton's website.
Personnel: Mick Hutton: electric bass, steel-pan, cuatro, synthesizer; Mark Edwards: piano, keyboards; Andy Panayi: saxophone, flute; Paul Robinson: drums, percussion; Gary Hammond: percussion; Arnie Somogyi: double-bass; Josh Hutton: guitar (7, 14).