Recently named NEA Jazz Master, Bobby Hutcherson has an extensive discography, though opportunities to record as a leader have slowed a good bit since the dawn of the 21st century. Hutcherson is still very much an important vibraphonist, as this excellent tribute to John Coltrane reveals. All nine songs were either written or recorded by Coltrane, though Hutcherson's choice of instrumentation deliberately moves away from the jazz master's typical groups. Guitarist Anthony Wilson takes the place of a second reed instrument while pianist Joe Gilman and drummer Eddie Marshall both have a lighter style of playing in comparison to McCoy Tyner and Elvin Jones respectively. Bassist Glenn Richman is not as well known as his fellow musicians on the date, though he establishes himself as a solid player from the onset. Hutcherson, who, despite being active in jazz for the last seven years of Coltrane's life, never recorded with him, offers interpretations that provide a striking contrast to those heard on the late saxophonist's albums.
The four Coltrane pieces, for the most part, are infrequently explored by other jazz musicians. The brooding, powerful "Spiritual" retains its tension, though the vibes are much lighter than Coltrane's soprano sax, as is Wilson's guitar in place of Eric Dolphy's piercing bass clarinet. The breezy Latin setting of "Like Sonny" contrasts with the reflective interpretation of the title track and the gently swinging "Dear Lord."
Although Coltrane was a prolific composer during the 1960s, he took time out to explore compositions by others. Two standards, "Nancy (With the Laughing Face)" and "All or Nothing at All," appeared on the Ballads album, rumored to have been a rebuttal to critics who thought Coltrane was no longer capable of playing a great melody without an avalanche of notes. Hutcherson takes the former in a reserved fashion while the latter is played as a brisk bossa nova, with delightful comping by the rhythm section. Tyner's "Aisha" is a rarity because Coltrane rarely recorded his sidemen's originals. Hutcherson's spacious, shimmering arrangement does much to unveil its beauty, an early work that is deserving of greater exploration by others.
Wise One; Like Sonny; Aisha; Equinox; All Or Nothing At All; Nancy (With The Laughing Face); Spiritual; Out Of This World; Dear Lord.
Bobby Hutcherson: vibes; Anthony Wilson: electric guitar; Joe Gilman: piano; Glenn Richman: bass; Eddie Marshall: drums.
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