San Francisco (180gm classic series)
Format: LP, Vinyl
Bobby Hutcherson’s dazzling output on Blue Note records continued well into the 1970’s, a decade from which the latest Blue Note classic vinyl series selection has been chosen: San Francisco. The album is a unique one in Hutcherson’s catalogue in that it has an overt soulfulness which grasps the listener instantly. This isn’t to say that Hutcherson didn’t have a soulful sound prior, but it isn’t until this release that we hear Hutcherson in a more unambiguously “soulful” context, helped along the way by a strong and musically diverse personnel of Harold Land on tenor, the Jazz Crusaders’ very own Joe Sample on keys, Mickey Roker on drums and John Williams on both upright and Fender bass. Hutcherson naturally plays vibes, while also incorporating marimba and adjacent percussion. The album still retains the abstract modality of some of Hutcherson’s earlier playing while delving further into progressive soul territories for an artist of his reputation.
The Prints Tie, an original Hutcherson composition, starts off with a simple electric bass and cowbell pattern before Roker’s drums accent an oblique bossa line. Alongside Sample’s chiming and assonant electric keys which plays off against wilting phrases from both Hutcherson on marimba and Land on tenor, they unlock the weirdness of the soundscape through their mutual interjections and heavily improvised phrasing. For the original jazz-dance crowd, take pleasure in the warming and funky Ummh that grips your hips with an irresistible blues groove, placing this music firmly in the chitlin circuit tradition of the early seventies, when straight ahead jazz was slowly but surely being diluted with more commercially accessible sounds like soul and funk, and when players were almost compelled to compromise their musical standards to make a buck or two in dance clubs. Sample’s wah-wah electric keys fuzz imparts a rhythmically and tonally rich lilt to the track and an informal, funky sonority, while Land’s soloing is firm and bluesy, rooted in—and playing with—the groove.
Going Down South is one of the clear-cut album highlights, a track written by Sample which almost sounds as if it may as well have been written by Carole King, save for Hutcherson’s vibraphone and the unusual chromatic phrasing from Sample at the end of every seventh bar. Its repetitive groove keeps on churning and building one layer at a time, with outstandingly funky bass work from Williams and subtle percussive influences that continuously keep the track moving forward. Sample’s comping over Hutcherson’s solo sections, performed deftly and articulately on Marimba, brings about a deepened melodic register, while still maintaining a light and groovy feel. The track certainly feels like a journey, a long and excitable trip down to the southern states with similar levels of freedom, anticipation and expansive great open road described by Jack Kerouac in his 1957 novel On The Road. A great American artistic undertaking that conjures spacious imagery and warming climes.
Personal album highlight Jazz is a searing composition from Sample which boasts a standalone danceability and rhythmical swagger, from the chiming mambo bell patterns on ride to the timbales style tom-tom hits and phrases performed by Roker, the depth of the interplay between Hutcherson’s metallic, bright vibraphone playing and Sample’s atmospheric acoustic keys, and Land’s muscular and adaptable approach to the changes on tenor. Wicked stuff, hard blowing and atmospheric, with an inherent danceability.
One of Hutch’s best outings and an album that we were complaining about not having been reissued on the Tone Poet or the Classic Vinyl series sooner. Guess we stand corrected! A dazzling release in the current Blue Note reissue firmament.
Buy the LP HERE