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Bobby Hutcherson: Head On

Chris May By

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A brilliant addition to Blue Note's Connoisseur series, Head On not only resuscitates vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson's fascinating but obscure 1971 album of the same name, it also—with 43 minutes of previously unissued material—reveals another album altogether, made during the second half of the same three-day session, of the same high quality but with a markedly different feel.



Both albums feature Hutcherson's regular quintet of the time—with tenor saxophonist Harold Land and trumpeter Oscar Brashear—augmented by horns and percussion arranged by pianist Todd Cochran. Both are adventurous conceptions reflecting the era's restless search for new ideas and new directions.



By the late 1960s, Blue Note had been absorbed by the Liberty group of labels based in Los Angeles and, coincidentally or not, a West Coast counter-culture vibe spread amongst its artists, who recalibrated their music with bells, incense and percussion, rock and funk bass ostinatos and drum rhythms, and extended deep grooves. Some of this music has been collected on the excellent double-CD Righteousness (Blue Note, 2006).



With Harold Land, Hutcherson made his move with the blackism-infused Slow Change (Blue Note, 1969), featuring vocalist and songwriter Gene McDaniels. The George Butler-produced Head On was a partial return to hard bop verities. The original album—the four tracks "At The Source" through "Clockwork Of The Spirits"—is, Cochran's Gil Evans inspired intro and outro orchestrations aside, essentially a percussion heavy shot of late period hard bop, given a post-Bitches Brew vibe by William Henderson's Fender Rhodes. It brims with lush and lyrical Hutcherson solos on vibraphone and marimba, and rougher and more fervent ones from Land and Brashear. There are rock and funk traces, but at heart the music is classic hard bop.



The three previously unissued tracks—particularly the 16-minute "Togo Land" and 18-minute "Hey Harold"—are something else again, closer in feel to trumpeter Donald Byrd's extended, majestic, funk masterpiece "The Emperor" from Ethiopian Knights (Blue Note, 1971), also recorded in Los Angeles in summer 1971 with Butler producing, and also featuring Hutcherson and Land. Both tracks, topped and tailed by Cochran's orchestrations, are driven by mesmeric, heavy bass ostinatos and fat drum backbeats, over which Hutcherson, Land and Henderson stretch out with relish. "The Emperor" remains the sina qua non of this torrid little genre, but "Togo Land" and "Hey Harold" both get righteously close. Glorious, gorgeous stuff.



One excellent album returned to availability. One brand new album unearthed. Head On is a double delight.


Track Listing: At The Source: a.Ashes b.Eucalyptus c.Obsidian; Many Thousands Gone; Mtume; Clockwork Of The Spirits; Togo Land; Jonathan; Hey Harold.

Personnel: Bobby Hutcherson: vibraphones, marimba; Harold Land: tenor saxophone, flute; Oscar Brashear: trumpet, fluegelhorn; George Bohanon: trombone; Fred Jackson: piccolo; Todd Cochran: piano; William Henderson: electric piano; Stix Hooper: drums, percussion; Sunship Woody Theus: drums, percussion; Warren Bryant: congas, bongos, percussion; Louis Spears: trombone (1a,2,4); Willie Ruff: french horn (1a, 2, 4); Donald Smith: flute (1a, 2, 4-6); Ernie Watts: reeds (1a, 2, 4-6); Charles Owens: reeds (1a, 2, 4-6); Delbert Hill: reeds (1a, 2, 4-6); Herman Riley: reeds (1a, 2, 4-6); Reggie Johnson: bass (1a, 1b, 1c, 3, 4, 7); James Leary III: bass (5, 6); Ndugu Leon Chancler: drums, percussion (1a, 2, 4-6); Robert Jenkins: congas (5, 6).

Title: Head On | Year Released: 2008 | Record Label: Blue Note Records

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