Selection: Total Eclipse
Harold Land (tenor sax, flute) Bobby Hutcherson (vibes) Chick Corea (piano) Reggie Johnson (bass) Joe Chambers (drums) recorded Plaza Sound Studios, NYC, July 12, 1968, recording engineer George Sawtelle, Plaza Sound Studios, N.Y.C.
While we are in obituary mode, sound engineer Sawtelle, who became vice-President of Plaza Sound Studios, passed away peacefully in 2010, at age 87.
A great contribution from Bobby’s new tenor collaboration, “The Fox”, Harold Land, and the fresh sound of Chick Corea, marks this album out from being “just another vibes outing”.
Land was a still-vigorous hard bop player who added some welcome heat to contrast with Hutcherson’s cool metallic ringing tones. Jazz writer John Fordham described Land’s tenor style as “somewhere between the muscularity and earthiness of pre-bebop blues and freewheeling swing, and the restraint and delicacy of the cool school of the mid-1950s” (Land’s obituary, 2001). Despite superficial comparisons with Coltrane, Land was very much his own voice, and his playing much admired “for its intelligence and poise“. The collaboration with Hutcherson was to span seven Blue Note releases between 1968 and 1975.
Chick Corea here was just beginning to establish himself, sitting in the piano seat shortly to be occupied by Stanley Cowell (Strata East!). Corea’s debut album,Tones for Joan’s Bones (Woody Shaw!) was recorded only two years previously, followed by a title released under Pete La Rocca’s name, Turkish Women at the Bath (later briefly reissued by Muse as Bliss under Corea’s name, until the lawyers settled in favour of La Rocca). Soon after, Chick’s electric piano arrived, and by 1972 Return To Forever had taken off. No synthesiser noodling here, but sympathetic comping and solo, cascading notes and flourishes on a broad canvas reminiscent of McCoy Tyner with shades of Andrew Hill.
The title track opens deceptively: languid, cool, and peaceful but quickly gives way to a fast-paced exhilarating ride, with first Land at the helm. Floating figures and flourishes embellish rapid-fire runs maintaining fast forward momentum. Hutcherson maintains the pace with serpentine vibraharp invention in more linear solo patterns, xylophone mode rather than sometime sonorous colourings. Corea generates a spacious ambience, lots of air, which set me determined to get out my other early Corea acoustic piano albums and on the turntable. (The RTF collection will have to stay in the loft!). Reggie Johnson on bass and Joe Chambers on drums make their own contribution, keep the ears alert, following everyone working together.
Each of the other tracks on Total Eclipse maintain interest, the jaunty romp Herzog, the more conceptual Pompeian, and one track attributed to Corea, suitably enigmatic title – Matrix. (L Ron Hubbard influence?) The album has a good amount of heart to it, and “not just another vibes outing”
Vinyl: BST 84291 – Liberty Records Inc. – no Van Gelder.
Cover-lover’s Corner: what is it with that cheesy grin? The hat and beard was to come later, but Bobby’s transformation from “serious artist” to “cheeky boy-next-door” is complete. Clearly by 1968 “serious artists” were no longer a selling point.
Blue Note back cover address has mutated to BLUE NOTE RECORDS, INC., 729 SEVENTH AVENUE, NEW YORK CITY/ 6920 SUNSET BLVD., LOS ANGELES, CALIF.
NEWSFLASH! Good news for health-conscious vinyl collectors. Total Eclipse has recently been reissued by LJC Records with an alternative non-smoking cover, on flavoured vinyl. Seriously cool. Available in mint chocolate chip, raspberry and vanilla. Refrigerate after playing…
Stereo presentation is a huge wide-screen spread, wonderful to listen to even if you are a mono-man. The recording is bright, with full tonal range, no compression or cut-off that I can tell. Though it may not have the Van Gelder magic, it’s a good sounding record.
By 1968 the bond between Blue Note under Liberty, Van Gelder and Englewood Cliffs had clearly loosened. Total Eclipse was recorded in N.Y.C. at Plaza Sound Studios. Plaza, who, along with Reeves Sound Studios, were favoured by Riverside Records. Many jazz recordings at Plaza have mastering credited to Components Corporation, Denville, New Jersey, though no one is explicitly credited for this album.
At this point, I’ve run out of leads.
Where it was pressed and who mastered it remains unknown. The malformed ® and yellowish tint of the label doesn’t match the work of Blue Note’s printers Keystone. Unlikely to be All-Disc. A hand-written “re” follows the catalogue number on Side 1 – re-issue? re-master? re-worked? The only clue is the tiny initials “B.A.” in caps on Side 2. Any theories, let’s hear them, vinyl detectives.
It has been a quiet couple of months on the vinyl collecting front: very few acquisitions, very little of interest in the shops.
I think the problem, in part, is that not enough jazz collectors are dying. Unlike jazz musicians, who seem to be dropping like flies. We rely on collector’s kids putting dad’s collection back into circulation. Another explanation may be that, now vinyl is in renaissance, the kids are now hanging onto dad’s collection!
Not adding yet more records to an already overflowing record shelves is probably not a bad thing. More time should be given to playing the records you have already got. That is the upside – if there is one – of the obituary-industry.
Few more Bobby Hutcherson’s to come, then, time for something completely different.