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Perhaps the single album that best sums up Bobby Hutcherson’s early musical personality, Components is appropriately split into two very distinct halves. The first features four Hutcherson originals in a melodic but still advanced hard bop style, while the latter half has four free-leaning avant-garde pieces by drummer Joe Chambers. Hutcherson allots himself more solo space than on Dialogue, but that’s no knock on the excellent supporting cast, which includes Herbie Hancock on piano, James Spaulding on alto sax and flute, Freddie Hubbard on trumpet, and Ron Carter on bass. It’s just more Hutcherson’s date, and he helps unite the disparate halves with a cool-toned control that’s apparent regardless of whether the material is way outside or more conventionally swinging. In the latter case, Hutcherson’s originals are fairly diverse, encompassing rhythmically complex hard bop (the title track), pensive balladry (“Tranquillity,” which features a lovely solo by Hancock), down-and-dirty swing (“West 22nd Street Theme”), and the gaily innocent “Little B’s Poem,” which went on to become one of Hutcherson’s signature tunes and contains some lyrical flute work from Spaulding. The Chambers pieces tend to be deliberate explorations that emphasize texture and group interaction in the manner of Dialogue, except that there’s even more freedom in terms of both structure and tonal center. (The exception is the brief but beautiful closing number, “Pastoral,” an accurate title if ever there was one.) Components illustrated that Hutcherson was not only the most adventurous vibes player on the scene, but that he was also capable of playing more straightforward music with intelligence and feeling.

Bobby Hutcherson’s first quartet outing, Happenings, casts the brightest spotlight on the vibraphonist’s soloing abilities, matching him once again with pianist Herbie Hancock (who is also heavily featured) and drummer Joe Chambers, plus bassist Bob Cranshaw. For that matter, the album also leans heavily on Hutcherson’s compositional skills; save for Hancock’s “Maiden Voyage,” six of the seven numbers are Hutcherson originals. Given his reputation as a modernist, most of the pieces here are structured pretty simply — there’s a lot of straightforward modal hard bop, giving Hutcherson and Hancock plenty of room to solo. They handle much of the material with a light, mellow touch, trading off meditative licks even on the more up-tempo pieces and poignant, lyrical lines on the ballads “Bouquet” and “When You Are Near.” The two exceptions are the opening and closing numbers: “Aquarian Moon” is challenging post-bop, while the sinister “The Omen” finds Hutcherson opening up the bag of tricks he learned from the freely structured group dialogues Chambers wrote for albums past. Sharp stabs from the piano signal transition to a new, sometimes unaccompanied lead instrument, and Hutcherson’s darting marimba lines build up a claustrophobic tension. That doesn’t change the overall feel of the album, though, which ends up a charmingly relaxed, low-key outing and a nice addition to Hutcherson’s Blue Note catalog.

Theme from “Blow Up” found on OBLIQUE

One of Bobby Hutcherson’s best albums, Stick-Up! was also his first official release not to feature drummer Joe Chambers, who was a major part of Hutcherson’s outside leanings. Instead, Stick-Up! stakes out the middle ground between hard bop and the avant-garde, offering a set of structured yet advanced modal pieces indebted particularly to Coltrane. Hutcherson’s originals (five out of six selections) show him at the top of his game as a composer, and the ensemble’s playing is tight and focused throughout, but what really lifts Stick-Up! to the top tier of Hutcherson’s discography is its crackling energy. It’s quite possibly the hardest-swinging album he ever cut, and part of the credit has to go to the stellar rhythm section of McCoy Tyner on piano, Herbie Lewis on bass, and Billy Higgins on drums, who lay down a driving, pulsating foundation that really pushes Hutcherson and tenorist Joe Henderson. Tyner in particular is a standout, charging relentlessly forward on the intricate “8/4 Beat” and “Black Circle” and lending a Coltrane-ish flavor to the spiritually searching “Verse.” The lone non-Hutcherson piece, Ornette Coleman’s sometimes overlooked “Una Muy Bonita,” is given a fantastic, rollicking treatment as catchy as it is progressive, proving that the piece is a classic regardless of whether it’s interpreted freely or with a steady groove and tonal center. Hutcherson’s originals are uniformly strong and memorable enough to sit very well next to it, and that — coupled with the energetic performances — ranks Stick-Up! with Dialogue and Components as the finest work of Hutcherson’s tenure at Blue Note.

Bobby Hutcherson’s second quartet session, Oblique, shares both pianist Herbie Hancock and drummer Joe Chambers with his first, Happenings (bassist Albert Stinson is a newcomer). However, the approach is somewhat different this time around. For starters, there’s less emphasis on Hutcherson originals; he contributes only three of the six pieces, with one from Hancock and two from the typically free-thinking Chambers. And compared to the relatively simple compositions and reflective soloing on Happenings, Oblique is often more complex in its post-bop style and more emotionally direct (despite what the title may suggest). The latter is especially true on the two opening Hutcherson pieces, the sweetly lilting “‘Til Then” and the innocent, childlike theme of “My Joy,” which is reminiscent of “Little B’s Poem” (save for its multi-sectioned structure). Meanwhile, Chambers’ experiments with counterpoint in the context of group improvisation keep getting more evocative. The title cut is quick and driving, with lots of short, fleeting exchanges between Hutcherson and a surprisingly swinging Hancock; “Bi-Sectional” makes playful use of chromaticism in its first part, after which Hutcherson and Chambers switch between several different percussion instruments for what amounts to an artillery attack. As for the other pieces, Hutcherson’s “Subtle Neptune” fuses post-bop with Brazilian rhythms, and Hancock’s “Theme From ‘Blow Up'” is a spare modal melody over a repeated chordal vamp, somewhat reminiscent of his classic “Maiden Voyage.” All the performances are spirited enough to make the sophisticated music sound winning and accessible as well, which means that Oblique is one of the better entries in Hutcherson’s Blue Note discography and one worth tracking down.

-Steve Huey, allmusic.com

DOWNLOAD:
COMPONENTS (1965)
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HAPPENINGS (1966)
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STICK-UP! (1966)
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OBLIQUE (1967)
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