Bobby Hutcherson: Head On (1971) Blue Note/United Artists

Bobby-Hutcherson-Head-On-cover-1920x-LJC

Selection: Mtume (Hutcherson)

 Mtume  is a Swahili bantu word meaning  “the messenger”. You knew this of course. It is the only Hutcherson composition on the album, the rest of which is attributed to pianist Todd Cochran.

Artists

Oscar Brashear (trumpet, flugelhorn) George Bohanon, Louis Spears (trombone) Willie Ruff (French horn) Fred Jackson (piccolo) Harold Land (tenor sax, flute) Delbert Hill, Charles Owens, Herman Riley, Ernie Watts (reeds) Bobby Hutcherson (vibes, marimba) Todd Cochran (piano, arranger) William Henderson (electric piano) Reggie Johnson or James Leary III (bass) Leon “Ndugu” Chancler, Nesbert “Stix” Hooper, Woody Theus (drums) Warren Bryant (congas, bongos) Robert Jenkins (unknown instruments) Donald Smith (vocals) recorded at Poppi Recording Studios, Los Angeles, CA, July 1, 1971. (Hey Bobby, drinks for all the guys? Umm… your round?)

All those familiar names, “Stix” Hooper, “Ndugu” Chancler, Fred Jackson, but Todd T Cochran, I had not heard of before. Todd Cochran, later Bayeté Umbra Zindiko, pianist, keyboard and synthesizer player, released two fairly obscure albums on Prestige Records in 1972. This potentially promising beginning was followed by a long and varied career as a sideman.

Bayete-Prestige

Todd, or Bayeté Umbra Zindinko, seems to have had an identity crisis. The “Worlds around the Sun” cover is a clever photo montage, but the cover of “Seeking Other Beauty”  finds me somewhat at a loss for words.  Without wishing to be indelicate, he appears stark naked (there’s something dangling) and he is waving what looks like a folded copy of the New York Times. Is there a message there somewhere?  Did Todd come out as a nudist? Is he practicing semaphore signals? More importantly, which way is he facing on the back of the album?

But I digress.

Music: Head On

The massed army of reeds and percussion, the sheer size of the ensemble – over twenty musicians in total – signals this album is a significant break with Hutcherson’s earlier Blue Note quartet and quintet offerings. Critics found themselves having to reach for a new vocabulary: “West Coast cool meets free jazz big-band” … “highly cerebral and atmospheric” …. ” expansive, searching ’70s jazz,  influenced by contemporary classical works – Stravinsky“.

The Hutcherson piece Mtume (selection) is the more conventional of the pieces,  an exciting modal latin-tinged outing,  a swirling soundscape with layers of percussion, congas, and “things” being hit, roving bass, bright ringing cymbals. Harold Land’s tenor is gritty, charnel-house, grinding out notes rather than playing, whilst Hutcherson is scampering around, in there somewhere. The energy is undeniable and it feels fresh.

The Cochran pieces are a big canvas, not free jazz in the sense of Ornette’s double quartet, and not “experimental”, but laying claim to cinematic territory: a dense poly-rhythmic multi-textured soundscape of layers shifting with a purpose of their own, not to outline a “tune”.  Hutcherson’s quicksilver patterns more resemble twinkling lights of Andrew Hill than sonorous Milt Jackson. Electric piano appears, marking the changing times. Harold Land and Oscar Brashear still get solo space, but they are soloing in free fall, above not charts and changes, but a flow  of highly structured and layered arrangements, parachuting.

It is an interesting and exciting album, and not at all what I was expecting from the cover.

Vinyl: BST 84376 Blue Note Records Division of United Artists Inc.

The Cover-lover Corner:

More hat than Hutcherson, Bobby’s appearance on the cover  gives little clue as to the music within – I struggle to read across to the music. The writer of the liner notes, one Colman Andrews, was no doubt struggling with the same issues, as his brief three paragraphs make little or no reference to the music, and instead concentrate on Bobby’s appearance and what a great player he is. If I didn’t know better, I might suspect Mr Andrew’s hadn’t listened to it.

Engineer’s Corner:

Recorded in L.A. by “Rick Pekkoven”, possibly a miss-spelling of Rik Pekkonen, the engineer behind many of ’70s The Crusaders, Larry Carlton, and Jeff Lorber Fusion albums. Improbably, though, mastered by Van Gelder.  How that came about who knows, but Rudy did lovely job, bright top-end, all those ringing cymbal crashes working out my super tweeters in the 20 – 30 kHz range  – you know, the range inaudible to humans. Did I ever claim to be human?

The labels:

Blue Note Records, A Division of United Artists Records Inc.  held brief tenure of the Blue Note name, after the acquisition of Liberty Records Inc by diversified conglomerate Transamerica, and before Transamerica merged its Liberty holding with its United Artists holding, around 1973. Eventually they introduced the all-blue label design (black note or white note).

BST 84376! There were very few new releases on Division of United Artists, which functioned mainly as a reissue label to monetise the back catalogue of Blue Note. All credit to  them for issuing new releases by Bobby Hutcherson. Take a bow, then get back to your desk!

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Collectors Corner

According to my database, Head On  was purchased by me in 2010 through an eBay auction, for £6 plus UK postage. What can I say? I knew next to nothing at the time, some would say I still do. It has taken a long time, and a lot of listening to a whole lot of other music , to be able to really “hear” this record, as opposed to merely play it. It’s a long journey, with many stations along the way. Bobby was still evolving and treading his own path, where many had opted for safer and more lucrative directions, respect is due.

More Bobby Hutcherson to come.

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2 thoughts on “Bobby Hutcherson: Head On (1971) Blue Note/United Artists

  1. Marimbas. I love that sound, and I could easily live with a little electric piano. But I see that dread word ‘vocals’… Now, that’s different. There has to be a line in the sand. If God had wanted people to sing on jazz records he would have given them… OK, even I can see that that analogy isn’t going to work very well but the principle remains the same.

    I love the backwards and forwards churn of the underlying percussion on this, but the sax — Land, I presume — is rather verbose, almost as if the only thing he can think to do over this weird Africanesque music is…to keep blowing.

    I would certainly add this to my stock of Hutcherson but whether I would play it very often, I’m not sure. I rather like the cover, though — all those signifiers of a break with the old jazz tradition… Keep ’em coming, LJC.

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