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


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)


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.


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.


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

  1. Regarding the sources for the Heavenly Sweetness reissues, here are some notes i put together from various discussions and online posts:

    Between 2009 and 2013, Heavenly Sweetness produced a reissue series of
    thirty-six interesting and progressive titles from the Blue Note back
    catalogue. While analog, the source tapes are 1/4 inch copies of the
    original masters, made as flat transfers at the Capitol Studio in L.A.
    The new lacquers were cut at the Top Master studio, in Paris, France
    without any remastering. The 180gr vinyl was pressed at MPO, stampers
    show no initials of who at Top Master cut them.

    The album artwork images are reproductions, scans of the original
    jackets, not that well done, with blurry images, and printed on a thin
    jacket. The first series releases came with the vinyl housed in a
    thick cardboard inner sleeve that produced scratches when removed,
    later releases were shipped in a poly-lined inner sleeve.

    Reviews of the series is mixed, with mediocre results limited by
    source tape copies, and it is unknown what equipment was used to cut
    the new lacquers.


    • Thanks for the info, appreciated.

      I don’t understand, “new lacquers were cut at the Top Master studio, in Paris, France without any remastering” Cutting new lacquers from copy tape is “remastering”, isn’t it?

      1/4″ inch tape copies – that is domestic tape deck quality.

      3.75 7.5, 15 or 30 ips? Unspoken so I assume the slowest, they don’t know, or do and are keeping quiet.

      Are they confident the source was the original studio master tape? These are very precious tapes. Seems a lot of trouble to go to for 35 album reissues of indeterminate quality and price.

      I judge by the final output, the vinyl on my turntable, it’s not up to snuff. If they had original sources and the proper chain of analogue to professional studio quality they would say so. The rest is just waffle.


      • 1/4″ is pro quality and the industry standard for cutting records until it was mostly replaced by DAT tapes and later digital files, it’s the speeds, (15 and 30 ips), and the machines used that separate consumer and pro. As you say the cutting of the acetates is the mastering process with the cutting engineer making choices about how the finished record should sound. Would EMI have done flat transfers from the original masters, extremely unlikely, more likely they did flat transfers of whatever high res digital copy they considered their working master. As far as I recall the Heavenly Sweetness titles were all quite late so I guess that Capitol may have had some sort of duplicate west coast cutting masters in their vault and were willing to do flat transfers of those, likely Joe Harley would be the person who knows about Blue Note tapes and there location/use.


        • Lots to unpack here. If indeed HS did flat transfers, this means they simply ran whatever tape source they had (which would not have been an actual master….those do not leave Los Angeles where they are all stored) without applying any eq or level correction. I’d estimate that Kevin and I do that maybe 1 out of 10 sessions using actual masters, meaning that we put the master up, listen through, look at each other and say “there’s nothing to do on this one…it’s great as is.” On most, we’ll do minor touch-ups using eq and level. Back to masters and where they are: all of the BN master tapes and many of the Pacific Jazz/World Pacific/UA/Solid State/Transition master tapes are stored in Los Angeles. The rest are stored at a facility on the East coast and those are shipped to us when we need them. Once they are in L.A. they stay there. Universal Music Group owns Blue Note and its family of labels. The sale from EMI to UMG happened some years ago.


          • I think the HS deal was when EMI still owned Blue Note, I may be wrong, glad to see the masters haven’t disappeared into Iron Mountain, I thought that was the plan from Universal to store everything underground in Pennsylvania.


              • Exactly….and that’s where they are. I don’t know what “disappeared into Iron Mountain” means. Iron Mountain has very safe and secure facilities in PA and L.A. They have messengers hand-deliver the tapes to us.


                • I think that thanks to Michael Cuscuna and others the Blue Note tapes are well documented, I assume the other Jazz labels are as well, not all labels are and if you had a mislabeled master it could easily disappear into “Iron Mountain”. In my world tapes rarely have their info sheets and you don’t know for sure what you have until you play it.


                  • Thankfully, that is not an issue with the Blue Note masters as well as the BN group of labels. These are all very well cataloged and stored.


                • We’ve been speaking of Blue Note (and related) masters. Those were never stored on the Universal lot thankfully. As to “why” Universal used a warehouse lot for various assets, I have no idea. I wasn’t involved.


      • ‘Mastering’ is artistic, different from simply transferring what’s on the source tape to a lacquer. The description i’ve read of what Heavenly Sweetness did was without any EQ or compression, or limiting, they simply rolled tape, and the output was sent to the lathe to cut new lacquers for production. If effect, a ‘flat transfer’ of their copy tapes that were a flat transfer of the masters back in L.A. Tape copies of the masters (likely 15 or 30ips, didn’t say) at Capitol is the source of their vinyl, according to an interview i found.


        • Appreciate all the extra input. Too many unknowns in the HS story. Like the specific equipment, make of tape deck with preview head, year of manufacture, make of cutting lathe, year of manufacture, all equipment is not equal. Modern kit is full of solid state and digital transfer mechanisms. Is it even a copy tape, or a digital file transfer? Basically, HS don’t tell, which to me means they don’t know, they hide, or they don’t care. End of the day I judge only by the results and HS fall short of authentic lineage. Their lack of candour is the tell, they don’t deserve the benefit of the doubt, it is an insult to the people who go to all the trouble of ensuring authenticity.


        • Although the cutting engineer can attempt to make the finished record sound as close to the master tape as possible vinyl and tape are very different formats and you don’t cut a record without applying EQ, the RIAA standard which is what 99% of phono stages are designed to decode. If you did manage to cut a record without EQ your phono stage would mess up the sound by applying the RIAA curve, just try playing some fifties records cut for Columbia or Decca to hear the effect. There are other potential issues when cutting vinyl such as phasing issues which may also require the engineer to make choices that differ from what’s on the master. I’m sure Joe Harley can tell many tales of what Kevin Gray has to do to make records sound close to the master tape and it’s not as easy as pressing play on the tape machine.


  2. 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: 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”


  3. 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.



    David M. Roth
    Editor & Publisher


  4. 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.)


  5. 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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