Monday, December 28, 2009

December 28: Bobby Hutcherson, "Components"

Artist: Bobby Hutcherson
Album: Components
Year: 1965
Label: Blue Note

One of the most unique aspects of jazz music lies in the fact that, given the proper talent level, ANY instrument can lead the music at any given time. While an overwhelming majority of the time, it is either a piano or a horn of some sort that leads the way, there are a number of occasions where a "lesser utilized" instrument takes center stage. Out of all of these non-traditional "leading" instruments, there are few that occupy this prominent position as rarely as the vibraphones. The reason for this is largely due to the fact that, throughout music history, there have only been a handful of artists talented enough on the instrument to garner the respect and following of a sufficient backing band. While earlier artists like Lionel Hampton and Milt Jackson brought the instrument to prominence with swing and bop respectively, it was largely due to the efforts of Bobby Hutcherson that the vibraphones became an essential part of the "free jazz" movement. Without question one of the most unique, and perhaps the overall most talented vibraphonist in music history, Hutcherson played in a jazz style that was far more advanced and often bordered on avant-garde. This ability to step so far from the dominant paradigm of the jazz sound, and lead with a rarely used instrument serves as a testament to the unparalleled talent of Hutcherson, and his work remains massively influential to this day. As part of the stunning roster of Blue Note Records in the 1960's, Bobby Hutcherson released a handful of amazing records, yet none were most extraordinary than his 1965 masterpiece, Components.

In many ways, Components perfectly sums up everything that made the early years of Hutcherson's career so amazing. The album itself is split into two very distinct sides, with the fist side containing compositions of Hutcherson, and the second side being comprised of works written by drummer Joe Chambers. It is in the two very distinct writing styles of these artists that one can not only see the amazing range of music that Hutcherson and his band are capable of playing, but it also provides a fantastic contrast so one can clearly hear just how advanced and "out there" Hutcherson's writing is in comparison. The four tracks that comprise the first side of Components are about as advanced a "hard bop" sound as one will find anywhere in music, yet they remain wonderfully melodic throughout, and in many ways, this is the true genius and magic of Hutcherson's playing and writing. The compositions of Chambers found on this record, while equally as impressive, are far more "free" and avant than those of Hutcherson. These almost clashing sounds of melody versus harmony would derail most jazz efforts, yet the fact that the album is beautifully cohesive, and the entire band excels on every song, shows the amazing level of talent not only of Hutcherson, but of his backing band as well. also contains some of Hutcherson's best known compositions, including the winding, almost ethereal "Little B's Poem," which remains today one of the most gorgeous and truly perfect jazz pieces ever recorded. The overall greatness of every track of Components is slightly less surprising once one realizes that the record also marks one of the most stunning groupings of musicians that was ever assembled.

Even if one is not familiar with the name or work of Bobby Hutcherson, once one sees who comprised his backing band, it is clear to all that he was one of the most talented and highly respected musicians in history. As the second composer of the unit, drummer Joe Chambers is without question one of the finest percussionists in music history, and having played alongside everyone from Eric Dolphy to Chick Corea, he is clearly a talent unlike that of any other of his generation. Fresh off of the release of his own jazz masterpiece, the piano parts throughout the album are provided by none other than Herbie Hancock. Though he was still "formally" a part of Miles Davis' group at the time, being on Blue Note Records afforded him the opportunity to record with a wide range of musicians, and his work on Components remains today some of his most stunning work of his career. The third key piece of Hutcherson's backing band is the brilliant playing of trumpet master Freddie Hubbard. Without question one of the most revered and respected names in all of jazz history, Hubbard played alongside everyone from Dolphy to Coltrane to Coleman to Blakey, yet his playing captured here is easily some of the most impressive he ever recorded. Not to be overlooked in this grouping of some of jazz music's greatest players, bassist Ron Carter is in many ways the only "fitting" player, as few musicians would be worthy of such company. It is almost impossible to name all of the artists with whom Carter recorded, as with more than twenty-five hundred recordings, he is one of the most recorded musicians in history. Though he is perhaps best known for his work with the likes of Davis, Wayne Shorter, and McCoy Tyner, Carter's playing on Components is on par with his finest work anywhere else. Bringing with him a far more experimental and "out there" style of playing, the sextet is rounded out by flutist and alto saxophone master, James Spaulding. Having honed his skills with both Pharoah Sanders and Sun Ra, Spaulding is in many ways the key element to Hutcherson's exploratory playing, and there is clearly an uncanny chemistry between the two musicians.

While one cannot overlook the fact that Components contains one of the most overwhelmingly talented grouping of "backing" musicians that was ever assembled, throughout the album, there is rarely any question that Bobby Hutcherson is the "star" of the record. Though he affords himself far more solo space than on his previous record, his work does not seem overly dominating, but there is never any question that he is leading the group. More than nearly any other artist in history, Hutcherson's playing throughout Components perfectly defines the entire term "cool." From his light touches to his stunning solos, it is Hutcherson's playing that brings together the various sounds and styles of his backing band, and it is also what gives each track its sensational mood and character. From the gorgeous, meandering bliss of "Tranquillity" to the more formal, yet almost dirty feel of "West 22nd Street Theme," the sextet plays with phenomenal skill over a wide range of sounds and styles. It is this diversity in musical styles that highlights the difference in the writing of Hutcherson and Chambers, as the works of Chambers concentrate far more on the textures and group interaction, while Hutcherson's pieces are far more musically complex and unlike that of anything previously recorded. On every track, the playing of Bobby Hutcherson is a true musical treat, and he uses Components to stake his claim as not only one of the finest jazz musicians in history, but also as one of the most daring and truly intelligent players that the world has ever heard.

There was a time that, due to the nature of the genre at the time, one had to try quite hard to be "different" or "avant" within the world of jazz music. As the genre split off into countless sub-genres and new styles and forms seemed to be popping up every day, to truly set oneself apart from the pack, one had to be both a musical visionary, as well as exceptionally talented. Easily covering both of these requirements, vibraphone master Bobby Hutcherson remains today one of the most important figures in all of jazz music. Playing everything from the most unique and adventurous music of his generation, to some of the most intelligent interpretations fo established styles, Hutcherson's body of work pushed jazz music forward in ways like no other artist. Coming off of the heels of his vital work on Eric Dolphy's seminal work, Out To Lunch, Hutcherson brought together some of the finest players in the history of music, and the resulting sessions became an equally landmark moment in the development of jazz music. With names like Hancock, Spaulding, Carter, and Hubbard, the liner notes to Components reads like a "who's who" of jazz music, and this is one of a number of occurrences in music history where it is almost unfathomable that such greatness was ever assembled in the same room. Along with the brilliant playing and writing of Joe Chambers, Hutcherson leads his band with his unique vision and absolutely phenomenal playing. Though he has recorded countless albums since, there is little question that Bobby Hutcherson's landmark 1965 album, Components is truly his masterpiece, as well as one of the most import and and influential records ever recorded.

Standout tracks: "Components," "Tranquillity," and "West 22nd Street Theme."

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