Bobby Hutcherson ‘Highway One / Conception: Gift of Love / Un Poco Loco’ 2CD (BGO) 4/5

Post-Blue Note in the mid-1970s, vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson signed for major label Columbia and this excellent double CD groups together three separate albums of his work that date from the mid-to-late 1970s in a variety of settings that range from larger ensemble plus brass to the more intimate guitar and rhythm section minus any brass. The compositions and performances are strong throughout and Hutcherson is accompanied by some of the finest musicians of his generation. His Columbia debut, ‘Highway’, was co-produced with Todd Barkan and was recorded in San Francisco with an extended line-up of Hubert Laws on flute, George Cables on piano with Cedar Walton guesting on some tracks, and Kenneth nash on percussion. The title track is one of the strongest numbers and an uptempo piece that showcases Hutcherson on vibes. Freddie Hubbard guests on trumpet on the lovely big band waltz, ‘Sweet Ritz Suite/Part 2: her soul’. Two versions of, ‘Secrets of love’, include a longer take on the reprise which is a subtle mid-tempo number that features electric piano and the vocals of Jessica Cleaves and this has a strong spiritual feel, and is a terrific left-field jazz track worth investigating. A reworking of the ballad, ‘Bouquet’, which was on, ‘Happenings’, is this time re-imagined a decade later with strings added.

A year later, the album, ‘Companion’ (1979) came out, recorded on the east coast at Rudy Van Gelder’s famous studio, and included are the same rhythm section, but with an extended brass section that features Frank Wess and Jon Faddis, while percussionist Bill Summers is on hand this time round. The joyous opener, ‘No Siree bop’, is another glorious waltz with flute and vibes operating tandem while, ‘Remember to smile’, is a Latin-flavoured flyer of a tune with once again flute and vibes taking lengthy solos. Post-bop big band hues are the flavour of the day on, ‘Dream on’, while, ‘Clockwise’, is a quality ballad.

For the final album showcased here, ‘Un poco loco'(1980), the line-up changes radically with no brass whatsoever and the inclusion of guitarist John Abercrombie in a significantly pared down set of musicians with only George Cables remaining and Pete Erskine now on drums and percussion. The Bud Powell title track classic is treated as an uptempo vehicle with guitar, vibes and percussion all playing off one another to good effect and with a Latin vamp on bass. Spaced out sounds emerge on, ‘The sailor’s song’, with the electric piano deployed in a manner that sounds akin to Bob James during this era.

For those not already aware of his craft, the late Bobby Hutcherson recorded some of the most distinctive and progressive jazz albums of modern times and these include, ‘Out to lunch’ with Eric Dolphy,’ Destination Out’ with Jackie McLean and ‘Mode for Joe’ and especially, ‘Stick up’, with Joe Henderson as well as seminal leader albums such as, ‘Happenings’, with Herbie Hancock and, ‘Components’ with both Hancock and Freddie Hubbard. All are essential listening experiences and readily available on CD and digital formats. Extended discographical notes from Mojo writer and jazz aficionado Charles Waring round off the enjoyable experience.

Tim Stenhouse