Bobby Hutcherson: Cirrus (1974) Blue Note/United Artists (updated)



Selection: Rosewood (Woody Shaw)


Woody Shaw (trumpet) Emanuel Boyd, Harold Land (tenor sax, flute) Bobby Hutcherson (vibes, marimba) William Henderson (piano, electric piano) Ray Drummond (bass) Larry Hancock (drums) Kenneth Nash (percussion) recorded at Wally Heider Recording Studio III, Los Angeles, CA, April 17, 1974


Hutcherson in the ’70s

Hutcherson had a long run of titles though the ’70s, not all of the stature of his ’60s Blue Note sessions, but some interesting work among them. I have just four of these twelve titles, including one that received All-Music’s all-time lowest number of stars, Natural Illusions: a strange piece with Hollywood strings, a surreal “disembodied floating face and caught red-handed” cover.


Of the rest, Head On, the Montreux set and Cirrus are on the shelf, and valued as much for the presence of Harold Land and Woody Shaw (Montreux) as for Hutcherson’s contribution. Though I may be missing out, the others do not feel musically compelling. The covers do  Hutcherson fans no favours: ask your record store for a plain brown paper wrapper.


By 1974 Hutcherson had reached peak beard, and dipping into his wardrobe of hats, pulled a giant selfie for the cover of Cirrus: a manic look that might double up as a bird-scarer, on a stick in a field. The art direction behind many of these covers is authentic ” ’70s-naff”. Among them, only Inner Glow stands out in contrast, with some authority.

Feeling lazy,  I’ll steal a review of Cirrus from the trusty Dusty Groove:

Righteous Bobby Hutcherson from the 70s – one of his last albums recorded in the company of reedman Harold Land – and one of his greatest too! There’s a wonderful mix of modes going on here – modal jazz meets California sun, blending a sense of spiritualism with some of the warmth that Hutcherson was increasingly discovering in his music – especially on the album’s use of marimbas, which are surprisingly great next to Bobby’s vibes!

In addition to work from Land on tenor and flute, the set also has the great Woody Shaw on trumpet – plus Bill Henderson on Fender Rhodes, Emanuel Boyd on tenor, Ray Drummond on bass, Larry Hancock on drums, and Kenneth Nash on percussion – a rhythm player who really helps give the record some hip Strata East-like touches. Titles include a sublime reading of Shaw’s “Rosewood”

On that at least we agree, Shaw’s butter-melting tone is indeed sublime, but he gets no solo space in his own composition, a light, jaunty west-coast fusion freewheeling swinger that underlines the direction of Hutcherson’s music in the coming years. Producer, one George Butler.

Produced by George Butler, a name I recall seeing in the fusion years of my relative youth. Butler’s wiki picks up the story of “where Blue Note got lost”

Butler was responsible for Blue Note from 1972, charged with increasing interest in the jazz format with numerous jazz-soul crossover projects aimed at a more mainstream audience, including albums by Donald Byrd, Earl Klugh, Ronnie Laws and Bobbi Humphrey, as well as working with prominent jazz musicians from the 1960s, including Horace Silver and Bobby Hutcherson.

In the late 1970s, he became vice president for jazz and progressive artists and repertory at Columbia Records, staying into the mid-1990s. He helped to persuade Miles Davis to return to recording in 1980 and signed or was executive producer for fusion and soul-jazz acts, such as Bob James, Billy Cobham and Grover Washington Jr.

To be fair, I bought a lot of these albums at the time, so I guess I was part of that “mainstream audience”. David Sanborn,  Spyrogyra, Lee Ritenour, George Benson, Joe Sample, Don Grusin, The Crusaders, Jeff Lorber, Yellowjackets, Chick Corea’s Elektric Band, Frank Gambale, Al diMeola,  I used to think Grover Washington Jr was great, Billy Cobham and Bob James too. More “smooth/soul  jazz” than “jazz rock fusion” but I went through that as well: Mahavishnu, RTF, Weather Report.

I take them out of the loft sometimes and put them on the turntable. I cringe. How did this come about? I reckon there were always records being produced,  and people were consuming what the industry was producing at the time. You looked forward to the next new record from your favourite bands or artists. You were the mainstream, swimming with the tide. And you were quite happy with it. Once you step off the production / consumption conveyor belt, things rapidly go pear-shaped.

How different to now find yourself swimming against the tide. Fishing in a pool of second-hand records recorded and manufactured fifty or sixty years ago, by artists long dead and unknown to all but The Jazz Illuminati. Artists that will never make a new record. Listening to music not promoted or advertised, nor much written about by today’s mainstream. Music that would not otherwise exist, left to the mainstream, and all the more amazing that it does. Listening to music you have sought out, that is hard to find. It’s a different paradigm.

LJC-Michael-Caine- Professor Jazz fastshow30Footnote to myself: By the ’80s, different directions in electric jazz emerged which had no appeal to me at the time. Acid Jazz , Jazz Funk, Nu Jazz, Punk Jazz, Jazz Rap, No Wave, Thrashcore, M-base, virtuoso-instrumental (guitar or bass), ECM Nordic-angst,  and finally Melange Jazz , Nutri-bullet Blender jazz:  prog  rock rap hiphop urban country dance latin metal swing jazz, of the “more ingredients is better” school.

No doubt this will include some reader favourites, so I had better shut up at this point.


At last! A pressing Plant identifier, I think. TML stamp – M, and TML stamp – S. Anyone recognise this?



Collector’s Corner

News not about Bobby, but our own Tubby, Tubby Hayes.

I was delighted to learn that our great, some say greatest British tenor, Tubby Hayes, is to be honoured with a blue plaque on his former home in South West London.   I reproduce biographer, tenorist and all round good jazz person, Simon Spillett’s  news release here:


 Little Giant Gets The Blue Plaque Treatment At Last

Tubby Hayes, London’s very own Jazz Legend, has at last been awarded the coveted Blue Plaque treatment.

On Wednesday August 31st 2016, a small crowd gathered at 34 Kenwyn Road, SW20, now the home of David and Maureen, to witness Tubby’s son Richard unveil a Heritage Foundation plaque in honour of his father, who lived in the house from 1936 to 1951.

tubby-plaque-capture  There have been plans mooted  for such an award for some years, all of which had come to nothing, but the Heritage Foundation’s interest was piqued by writer and film-maker Mark Baxter, mastermind behind the recent documentary film Tubby Hayes: A Man In A Hurry (Mono Media Films, 2015). The Foundation have previously honoured pop and rock icons including Beatles’ John Lennon and George Harrison and Dusty Springfield, among others. Thanks to Baxter’s dedication and belief, the plaque for Hayes marks their first award to a jazz legend.
Those who attended the unveiling included the director of A Man In A Hurry, celebrated film-maker Lee Cogswell and long-time Hayes’ champion, saxophonist Simon Spillett, author of The Long Shadow of The Little Giant: The Life, Work and Legacy of Tubby Hayes (Equinox Publishing Ltd. 2015).
Says Spillett: “The awarding of a Blue Plaque to Tubby’s childhood home is, I think, a long-overdue acknowledgement of his cultural importance. His story and music are well known, but this award gives credit to his being a key figure in what was a truly special era for the arts and entertainment in the UK. In fact, there’s a slightly surreal feeling in realising that Tubby’s world class jazz talent was incubated not in New York or Los Angeles but in post-war suburban London. You can just imagine him as a teenaged lad, saxophone case in hand, trotting off down Kenwyn Road to catch a train into the West End. His career may have been on an international level, but the plaque plants him firmly on the map as a London icon, a distinctly British jazz legend.”
Hayes frequently returned to his family home during his stormy twenty-three year professional career, living there again briefly during the early 1970s while recuperating from open-heart surgery. His mother, Dorothy Kenyon lived in the house until the 1980s.
This has inspired me to propose that record stores might wish to appeal to The Lottery Fund, Arts Section to create a similar “Vinyl Heritage” blue plaques. I thought one like this might make a start:

15 thoughts on “Bobby Hutcherson: Cirrus (1974) Blue Note/United Artists (updated)

  1. I agree that most of the 70’s fusion jazz is now difficult to play, but I place a high historical value on the music. To to many of us who grew up on rock n’ roll of the 60’s and 70’s, fusion was a very important transition music. It contained enough rock intensity to hold our attention, but still adjusted our ears to a more refined jazz sound. And fusion led directly to a number of well know mainstream jazz musicians – I heard Wayne Shorter in Weather Report and Tony Williams in Lifetime before I heard them with Miles’ quintet. I listened to Herbie Hancock’s Mwandishi and Headhunters records before I heard Maiden Voyage (probably my first Blue Note). Thinking back, I wonder how much jazz would be in my collection now if the fusion period had not occurred.

    • Very fair and thoughtful question, to which I can’t think of a good answer.

      We are the sum of our accumulated experiences, that is self-evident. Respecting the historical evolution of music, yes, I’d I can go with that. Apart from fusion, at the time I also listened to lots of prog-rock, King Crimson, Soft Machine, Yes, and the like, which lead me absolutely nowhere, and that too is accumulated experience, and I can’t stand the stuff.

      I am more inclined to a theory of random sampling. I’ve sampled possibly hundreds of genres. Most have lead nowhere. One or two have lead to today. Why those and not the others?

      • Taste. Not everything can press your buttons.
        I discovered Dolphy because of my love for Frank Zappa. His song ‘The Eric Dolphy Memorial Barbeque’ had me intrigued. I also investigated Edgar Varese because of Zappa and found little to be captivated by, and now I have around 500 jazz albums, 2 Varese albums and very rarely listen to Zappa anymore.

        • What an interesting discussion. What has always interested me about the fusion period is how close it was — had I only known — to the period when major British jazz recordings of real and enduring significance were being made.

          For example, when I and my friends were listening to the first couple of Mahavishnu Orchestra records (1971 and 1973), this was barely two years after McLaughlin had recorded one of the great jazz guitar trio records, EXTRAPOLATION (1969). But until I saw this on a cheap Polydor reissue some time in the early 70s I had never heard of the record — and nor did I know that McLaughlin had recorded jazz. In fact, I knew nothing about him beyond the Mahavishnu Orchestra. I had no idea he had recorded with Miles. I still remember that it was a somewhat younger friend, a work colleague, who told me I should listen to Bitches Brew. He used to snaffle his older brother’s copy (and risk a thumping if found out because he was an inherently clumsy boy who couldn’t have looked after an LP to save his life) specifically to hear McLaughlin.

          Similarly Jack Bruce. I had no idea that Bruce was a jazz bassist. I knew Cream, of course — which my generation couldn’t hear enough of — but I didn’t know that in 1969 he had recorded the excellent THINGS WE LIKE (with Dick Heckstall-Smith, McLaughlin and Jon Hiseman). I saw that discounted in HMV and bought it simply because it was Jack Bruce. I found the contents quite a shock and had no understanding of the post-bop and free jazz traditions it grew out of.

          Similarly Nucleus and Ian Carr. I knew nothing of Ian Carr’s prior career or his recordings with Don Rendell and others — the great DUSK FIRE and SHADES OF BLUE especially — throughout the 1960s.

          It was simply harder in those pre-internet days to find stuff out. And if, like me, you were a teenager living on Saturday job wages, what you could afford to buy was limited and there was a tendency to stick with what you knew, the people who were already established in your own personal rock or fusion or prog pantheon.

          Listening to McLaughlin chase John Surman’s knotty, bubbling baritone lines on EXTRAPOLATION sent me in search of WHERE FORTUNE SMILES (Dawn 1970). It was also significant, of course, that this didn’t look like a free jazz/fusion record — it looked like a ‘head’ record, with its pale gold mandala on a gorgeous matt mossy-green sleeve…

          What I now find fascinating is realising that within barely five or six years, pretty well all evidence of the late-60s boom in British jazz had disappeared from record shops (at least, from the shops i went to). Some began to reappear as cheap reissues or sale price out-of-prints in the early years of the 1970s, but many — Surman’s early recordings, the Ian Carr/Don Rendell Quintet — wouldn’t reappear until Gilles Peterson resurrected them for the club scene and along with Tony Higgins prompted a significant series of CD reissues (and a few vinyl compilations) in the early 2000s. But the market is fickle and now most of these CDs are again out of print.

          So to come back to pcocke’s original point, now I think about it he is absolutely right to insist on the historical importance of the jazz fusion scene. We all have to start from where we are — and I can now see that it was indeed fusion (in various forms) that first drew me away from the rock and prog and underground bins and sent me riffling through the sometimes very limited jazz sections in shops… And a lifetime’s listening has developed from that.

          • Extrapolation is a truly great record but by the time you get to McLaughlin’s Devotion etc I’m out of there.
            My own listening has evolved from being a fusion-disliking jazz purist early on to the exponential removal of all genre bigotry over the years.
            In the end jazz has helped me to listen for quality without prejudice.
            I’d rather listen to Larks’ Tongues in Aspic or Soft Machine’s first two albums than a mediocre Blue Note blowing date any time.
            Oh and I agree most definitely about Evan Parker – a national treasure.

            • Andy, I think many musical forms degenerate quite quickly. They slip from innovation to formula, the great being replaced by the good and then the good by the mediocre. Fusion – in my recollection anyway – degenerated very quickly. In barely three or four years and perhaps not even that most of it became empty bombast. Or, in McLaughlin’s case, worse, spurious religiosity. Others will disagree, I’m sure.

  2. “a light, jaunty west-coast fusion freewheeling swinger”. I think we all knew her at some point in our lives 🙂

    Yes, I have my own guilty secrets / admissions when I think back to the years when fusion dominated. How did I listen to it? Why? Well, one reason, is that I was too ignorant to look out other proper jazz, even had I known where to look for it… And another answer, is that a bit of it — a tiny bit — was genuinely marvellous and ground-breaking: the first Nucleus LPs, for example, are still fine new directions in jazz. But how swiftly fusion disappeared up its own fundament in pointless displays of virtuosity and multi-instrumentalism — astonishingly like prog rock in that sense.

    As I was saying over on the forum at the weekend, a great corrective is to listen to Bitches Brew. Now that still sounds contemporary, even futuristic, almost alien. So much else pales into insignificance by comparison (yes, even Miles’s own later work).

    Oh, and on a side-note: “our greatest British tenor” is Evan Parker, of course; Tubby holds an honourable second place 🙂

      • How strange, LJC: the WordPress alert in the menu bar advising me of your reply also includes the line “Increase medication”… But it doesn’t say that here. Increase my meds or yours? Or even each other’s?

        Or maybe yo’d like to try mine. They might change your mind about Tubby 🙂

        • As blog owner I enjoy unique privileges, like editing my own posts, and be warned, editing those of others. For example, you could suddenly find yourself confessing to an overnight conversion to the great Tubby. Not that I would, though I admit sometimes it’s tempting. Absolute power corrupts, absolutely.

          • I don’t think I ever knew — until I checked — that it was Lord Acton who said that. I shouldn’t think he had jazz bloggers in mind, though 🙂

  3. I hate to admit this publicly, but when I was coming of age in the very late sixties and early seventies (Vietnam, DC riots, and LSD, to name a few), I ran away from anything that had the word fusion in it. I, and many of my friends were trying desperately to get clean from, you guess it, Sex, Drugs, and fusion music parading itself as jazz. There, I said it.

  4. when i was first getting into jazz, a lot of fusion stuff looked like free and spiritual stuff at a glance, which is what i was looking for. since a lot of it was cheap, i took a lot of chances. some i still treasure, some i hate having on my shelves but keep for sentimental value. it is a good thing, fusion. i don’t listen to it much anymore, but it has gained the jazz world many loyal and devoted followers, and that’s what we need to keep the music going.

  5. You’re not the only one who liked Bob James back then. At least in California, Chuck Mangione was often on the FM radio airwaves and I listened to him quite a bit. George Benson’s “Breezin” was a fave. Few, if any of the that type of jazz of that time period is still in my collection. I do like a few cuts from the Crusaders “Chain Reaction” LP.

  6. Love the Montara album by Bobby Hutcherson, there’s some excellent Latin jazz on there. NIce to see Tubby’s blue plaque get a mention too. Went to see Simon Spillet play at the Bull’s Head the other night – he was excellent and is keeping Tubby’s spirit alive.

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