Bobby Hutcherson: Oblique (1967) TP 2020

Selection: My Joy

.  .  .  .

Opening waltz, tinkling children’s music box gives way to an up-tempo groove, Hutcherson and Hancock sparring, great Stinson bass solo to finish

Artists

Bobby Hutcherson, vibes (and drums on Bi-Sectional) ; Herbie Hancock, piano; Albert Stinson, bass; Joe Chambers, drums, gong, tympani, recorded for Liberty at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, July 21, 1967; first issued in 1979.

Track List

A1  ‘Til Then (Hutcherson)
A2  My Joy (Hutcherson)
A3  Theme From Blow Up (Hancock) 
B1  Subtle Neptune (Hutcherson)
B2  Oblique (Chambers)
B3  Bi-Sectional (Chambers)

Music

As in Happenings (1966), a hornless quartet format puts Hutcherson squarely in the front line. Hancock has conversation mode enabled, sparking complex changes of tempo and direction within the quartet.  The line up presents a percussion triple threat:  percussive piano, percussive mallets, percussive percussion, a three way dialogue with Chambers, freed from timekeeping. 

An added dimension of the album is the cross-section of composer’s styles. Chambers offers  “daring symphonies-in-miniature“.  Hutcherson throws in a samba, and more conventional  groundwork for fiery interchanges and solos. Theme From Blow Up, Hancock’s modal repeating vamp has overtones of Maiden Voyage. 

Seamless link, Michelangelo Antonioni’s film Blow Up (winner, Cannes Palme d’Or 1966): David Hemmings drives a Rolls Royce Silver Cloud drop-head coupé through London streets, and we see another iconic piece of 60s engineering, a Nikon F1 camera.

En routee,  ban the bomb protesters wave signs, fashion photoshoots with ultimate pro-toy Hasselblad using real film, a lot of Vanessa Redgrave’s back, and a British R&B shoe-in of The Yardbirds – Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page together briefly in 1966. Beck smashes up his guitar, all very ’60s. Hemmings in the crowd seizes a trophy broken guitar neck, subsequently only to discard it, a film metaphor for the futility of… something, superficial nihilsm, also very ’60s, but it won over the Cannes jury.

The most disturbing part of the Yardbird’s sequence is the blank expressions of the club audience, passive, like human sponges. Not really the correct setting for Hancock’s Theme but a good nostalgic sample of Swinging London and its Carnaby Street preoccupation with fashion models.  

But back to Oblique. The critics, who are better with words than me,  say this:

Marc Myers (JazzWax):

 “The sound of Hutcherson and Hancock together is otherworldly. Hutcherson’s ringing vibes and Hancock’s hypnotic chord riffs have a lavishly sophisticated sound.

The music is elegant and seems to glide rather than swing. It’s soft and sensual, with a swirling sensation, aided by the soft shimmers of Chambers and pulse of Stinson’s bass.”

John Fordham (Jazz critic, The Guardian): 

“Hutcherson, a harmonically sophisticated and intense performer, can rarely have played better, and Hancock is as significant an ensemble player as he is a soloist.”

Oblique is an exemplar of the art of intelligent collective improvisation. It features strong musical personalities, in their performing and in their compositions.  It sounds great, demands and repays active listening.

To sample the “furthest out track”, Bi-Sectional from Joe Chambers:

All the other tracks are available on Youtube, taken from the 2005 CD edition.

Vinyl : Blue Note Tone Poet 31963 (no catalogue number on label)

Mastered from the original master tape by Kevin Gray. A very quiet noise floor and wide placement of instruments, musicians in the room, full dynamic and tonal range (thank you Rudy).  The mastering is perfectly judged, a classic session finally given the vinyl presentation it deserves.

Gatefold

It looks like they didn’t have a lot of pictures to work with from this session, and none of Albert Stinson (See Collector’s Corner) Having shots of only three members of a quartet to fill four frames is a design problem with no easy solution. Two frames were filled by another shot of Hutcherson in a slightly awkward tall crop.

Harry’s Place

The right time and the right place, Harry M has the pictures. While London was “swinging”, Antibes swung more.

Bobby Hutcherson, Antibes 1969

Herbie Hancock, Ronnie Scotts, London, 1971

Joe Chambers, Antibes 1969

Photo credits: Harry M

Collector’s Corner

The missing  player in the session shoot is bassist Albert Stinson, perhaps he stepped out to powder his nose. Stinson’s brief recording career included time with Chico Hamilton, Joe Pass/Clare Fischer Catch Me sessions for Pacific Jazz, Miles Davis Live at University of California 1967 and with Charles Lloyd Quintet, Nirvana (1968). Stinson became missing permanently following a drug overdose in June 1969, at the age of only 24. 

Collector’s Market Report: Released in November 2020, the Tone Poet edition of Oblique is out of stock on my Amazon. Only a half dozen copies offered on Discogs, usual aftermarket pricing ▲▲▲, no copies from UK sellers  and four of the six overseas sellers won’t post to UK.  (Is this getting personal?) Hutcherson’s most collectable album is his other quartet title, Happenings,  which sells for as much as $600. The problem with Oblique Tone Poet  is not the price, it is the supply. 

Art Director’s Lunch Break – Deep Dive!

No “original” cover design existed. Oblique was first issued by King in Japan in 1979, Blue Note GXF-3061, cover art credited to K. Abe –  Katsuji Abe , real name: 阿部克自 (Abe Katsuji) Japanese jazz photographer, designer and writer. (Perhaps a Japanese reader could kindly explain how the order of first and last name works in Japan. I’m confused Collector. Jazz, London)

The Japanese artwork (below, right) is a very expressive picture of Bobby, externally mirroring the internal emotion stirred in creating music. The jean-jacket is gritty American workwear. The radial motion blur around Bobby gives it all some movement and energy. It’s a great cover design.

On the TP (above, left) the cardigan is homely, open neck shirt casual, Hutch is laid back, no sweat. How did we get here?

The TP cover is a Francis Wolff shot from the Oblique session, authenticity of time and place matters.  I found a couple of other shots of Bobby where the clothing matched to the session (below) though the shot framed by the saxophone is odd, because there is no saxophone on Oblique, maybe a different session.  Whatever, Francis Wolff was not having a good day.

TP have the pick of the shoot for the cover, tinted it blue, however fitting the text is the problem.

The artists all have long names. With plenty of free space to work with, the Japanese designer has stepped the names diagonally (echo oblique, a diagonal angle) They have colour-separated the title, leader and rhythm-section hierarchy. The title has its own bold block font, the artists have a different font, leader set in capitals, rhythm section in upper and lower case, an intelligent and elegant solution, in the spirit of Reid Miles, bravo Abe, K.

Tone Poet’s cover designer now has a headache. To avoid covering Bobby’s face with text the studio shot has to be heavily cropped to free up blank space left for artist credits. In the process, Bobby has lost some of his forehead and a mallet. The text fit is still uncomfortable, loses diagonal flow, no colour-“signposting”. In a last minute effort to rescue the situation, the designer inserts another picture of Bobby, next to the text.

Eagle-eyed pixel peepers will note notice the photo insert is the same session photo, but a new crop which restores Bobby’s amputated second mallet and forehead. Reid Miles often used a small postage stamp size photo of the artist on the cover but, unlike here, only grafted on to “humanise” a typography cover design. 

When released initially on CD, in 1990, the Japanese 1979 K. Abe cover art was used.  The precedent for the TP cover design was set twenty five years later by the remastered CD  release in 2005  (pictured below). The same Oblique session photo, but perhaps borrowing the energy of Abe K’s radial blur, added gaussian blur, which ends up looking like camera-shake, because  everything is blurred. The 2005 CD also introduces an unknown piano-player, the unfortunate anatomically-named Herbie Handcock. Ground swallow me up, what next, Bobby Hutchperson?

Oblique went without further vinyl release until 2013, when reissue label Heavenly Sweetness filled a gap in the market and produced an edition which unfortunately I bought. I innocently emailed the French DJs behind the label to ask what the audio source was. They didn’t reply, which answered my question. 

Soapbox Alert! Heavenly Sweetness sticker: “Original analog sound“. That is an interesting claim. If you play an original vinyl record, it has an original analog sound. What else could it sound like? But if the vinyl source is digital, a cd or digital file mastered for CD, filtered, trimmed and compressed and transferred onto vinyl, it is not the original analog sound, quite the opposite, it is fake analog. Words here are important.

Label address? Always read the label: King Japan Blue Note label address (below left):  47 West West 63rd.  Not in 1967 it wasn’t, nor in 1979. Tone Poet correctly attribute the label to “Division of Liberty”, who commissioned the recording session, even if they didn’t issue the recording. A small detail but I like it, small details add up.

The cover dissection was just a bit of fun. Thanks to Tone Poet, BN80/ Vinyl Classics, and MM, we can put all this fake-analog nonsense behind us. It’s great and long overdue to have high quality and integrity in the reissue process, and I say that as a collector of originals, which do actually have original analog sound.

In the immortal request of Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist…

Please sir, can I have some more?

Collector. Jazz, London

Declaration of Interest: none, personal purchase.

5 thoughts on “Bobby Hutcherson: Oblique (1967) TP 2020

  1. Hello LJC,

    Thanks (again!) for this nice, extensively story ‘bout this Bobby album…

    Warm greetings from Holland!

    Ben Korzelius

    ‘So What!’ – Papendrecht FM

    Van: LondonJazzCollector Verzonden: vrijdag 8 oktober 2021 17:25 Aan: b.korzelius@upcmail.nl Onderwerp: [New post] Bobby Hutcherson: Oblique (1967) TP 2020

    LondonJazzCollector posted: ” Selection: My Joy . . . . Opening waltz, tinkling children’s music box gives way to an up-tempo groove, Hutcherson and Hancock sparring, great Stinson bass solo to finish Track List A1 ‘Til Then (Hutcherson)A2 My Joy (Hutcherson)A3 Theme Fro”

  2. A fabulous excerpt from an LP unknown to me. Herbie!! Saw a “near-new” copy for sale on, I forget, either eBay or Amazon for $84 US. I would’ve taken it except I’m out of room! Living in SF I got to see a lot of Bobbie during his lifetime. Every performance Was a knockout; he gave it everything he had every time out.

    Best,

    -Dave

    David M. Roth
    Editor & Publisher
    Squarecylinder

  3. This is a great album. I’ve always liked the “original” King Japan cover, but it felt to me more appropriate for a ’69 or ’70 album, from the pic of Hutcherson, to the font and layout. The Japanese cover looks to me like it belongs next to Now! rather than Components (which I think is closer to when it was recorded.)

  4. Thank you for the very incisive review! I wish we could have included a session shot of the great Albert Stinson, but alas, Francis Wolff never took any….at this or any other session. My issue with the Japanese LP cover is that it shows Bobby at a point in time years after this session was recorded.

    • In his short recording career it is no exaggeration to call Stinson great this is his finest hour, but search for any of his work and be rewarded with an inquisitive mind and an unfailing aptness in choice of melodic and rhythmic possibilities for the string bass.

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