Thursday, June 9, 2011

June 9: Bobby Hutcherson, "Components"

Artist: Bobby Hutcherson
Song: “Components”
Album: Components
Year: 1965

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When one considers the so-called “greats” of jazz music, for the most part, they are geniuses of various brass instruments.  This is perhaps due to the ease with which such an instrument can dominate the overall sound within a group setting, but it goes without saying that some of the most important figures in all of jazz history made their name without the need for such positioning.  It is often in these slightly more harmonious, relaxed sounds where the most important steps in jazz occurred, and few performers represent this idea as perfectly as Bobby Hutcherson.  Without question one of the greatest vibraphonists to ever record, there seemed to be no territory or style that was “off limits” to his talents, and it is often the way in which he blended his own take on the “hard bop” style with avant guarde movements that made his sound so unique.  It was also the way with which he generously shared the musical space with his backing bands that enabled his compositions to become so sonically brilliant.  This was perhaps never shown better than on his absolutely phenomenal 1965 album, Components, where the first side consists of his own compositions, while the entire second side features songs penned by drummer Joe Chambers.  This gives Components a duality unlike any other jazz recording in history, and it also features Hutcherson surrounded by perhaps his finest backing band.  Though each track on both sides of Components is superb in its own right, few songs better represent the endless talents of Bobby Hutcherson better than the title track.

Perhaps moreso than any other jazz record in history, the flashy drum intro that kicks off “Components” instantly lights up the song and injects an amazing amount of energy.  Though Joe Chambers certainly played behind his fair share of jazz giants, this is without question one of his finest performances, and there is a loose, but focused tone to his playing.  Even after the rest of the band joins in, Chambers makes the most of his place, playing some of the most invigorating fills that have ever been captured on record.  He is joined in the rhythm section by fellow jazz icon, Ron Carter, and the two intertwine to form what is certainly one of the finest jazz pairings of all time.  Carter keeps a deep, steady groove, and he manages to slide seamlessly both forward and back in the mix.  However, one of the first points of focus is the winding, powerful solo from alto saxophone master, James Spaulding.  Though he is often overlooked for other saxophone greats, his performance on “Components” cements his place as a true titan of style and sound.  Yet one cannot dismiss the fact that he is both complimented and countered by an equally sensational trumpet performance from none other than Freddie Hubbard.  It is the way that Hubbard seems to almost be dancing alongside the other players that makes his performance here so unique, and his ability to fit so seamlessly with these other giants of style proves his exceptional level of talent.  The fact that all of these “big time” names of jazz were able to share a space so unselfishly enables “Components” to grow to massive proportions, and yet it was the final two members of the ensemble that make the song legendary.

Though there are some similarities, one cannot assume that if there is a vibraphone player, there is no need for a pianist, and vice versa.  On “Components,” it is the presence of both of these instruments that add an unmatched level of depth to the composition, and it is led by Bobby Hutrcherson.  There is an almost ethereal tone to his playing, and even though this light feeling existsts, there is a power and speedy brilliance to his solos that would become the blueprint for nearly every player that followed.  When one considers the instrument which he is playing, the speed and accuracy he delivers become all the more impressive, and it is also how he manages to blend together the hard-bop style with transitions and movements that perfectly represent the idea of “avant.”  Yet it is the way with which he is able to duet with the piano of none other than Herbie Hancock that is perhaps the defining aspect of “Components,” and it is he who rounds out this unimaginable group of jazz superstars.  On this recording, Hancock shows an amazing level of flare and delicacy in his playing, and one can hear traces of the brilliance that he would show on his later recordings as a band leader.  Concentrating a bit more on the hard bop sound, it is Hancock’s playing that pushes the recording outward, almost surrounding the listener.  With both Hutcherson and Hancock in top form, it is sheer joy to experience the way in which they seamlessly pass the lead back and forth, and then hand it off to the rest of the band as if they were reading the notes off of paper.

Simply put, there are few other jazz recordings that as a whole, can compare to the sound and energy found on “Components.”  Though there is no question that Bobby Hutcherson is leading the direction of the band, it is this recording which represents the idea of “equal players’ moreso than any other song.  It is this unspoken commitment to being unselfish that enables the song to achieve this greatness, as each band member is given plenty of space to flex their own musical muscles.  There is a level of “cool” that runs throughout the track, and one simply cannot overstate just how talented a band leader Hutcherson was to bring so many different jazz approaches together in a single sound.  The way in which each musician takes the central theme and explores it both in terms of octave, but tempo as well makes “Components” exciting each and every time,   Furthermore, it is this reality that enables listeners to discover new nuances of “Components” even after hearing it countless times.  There is a joyful and intelligent feel to the song as well, and one can argue that the performances are carried out with such perfection that many do not realize just how progression a work lives within “Components.”  This also enables the recording to be one of the most accessible from anything representing “avant jazz,” and this again points to the brilliance of Bobby Hutcherson.  Though there is not a “bad” moment anywhere on the able, there are few jazz recordings that can hold their own alongside the magnificent title track to Bobby Hutcherson’s outstanding 1965 able, Components.

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