I was very saddened to hear of Bobby Hutcherson's passing a couple of days back. Having been hit with the flu this past week, it was a perfect time to listen over the great jazz vibraphonist's immense catalogue. He is unequivocally one of my favourite artists ever. One of the most cerebral and emotive jazz musicians to do it, Bobby Hutcherson to me was always so visceral. He was a key figure among one of Blue Note's most forward-thinking rosters throughout the 60s and early 70s. A wave that defined the labels shift from hard bop into experimentalism. An in demand musician, he beautifully complimented the boppers like Herbie, Grant Green & Dexter Gordon. Later, alongside other impressive names like Andrew Hill, Jackie McLean, Grachan Moncur III and Archie Shepp, Bobby lead music into a realm that would later be owned by labels like Impulse. He tackled spiritual and avant-garde sounds with his own characteristic fluidity and wit. Gilles Peterson beautifully summed him up stating
"A little like Herbie Hancock, Bobby Hutcherson kept it pure but gently progressive - so as moods and trends moved in, he was able to retain his feel whilst absorbing the new".
He had a knack for always keeping things a little left yet always maintained a hypnotic mood to absorb. His music was really never about sticking out and flexing technical muscle. It didn't need to. Bobby built colour with just enough nuance to keep the heads interested. Perhaps thats why his music had such great impact on the hip hop generation. Take the absolute classic Montara for example. A track that has been flipped countless times by hip hop's finest. A definable track for jazz of the time, Bobby's arrangements have subtle complexities yet maintain a warm groove to simply kick back and mellow out. His music bridged the gap between post-bop to soul-jazz. For a crate digger who was first and foremost about finding grooves to nod your head, Bobby was one of those guys who opened up the door to delve deeper into a more "esoteric" jazz. My personal favourite of his is arguably one of his most adventurous recordings, Now! Made with long time collaborator Harold Land, Hutcherson also brought on board none other than a reinvigorated, politically conscious vocalist Eugene McDaniels. The result is some sort of quasi post-bop meets spiritual masterpiece. Try Slow Change and tell me you don't get lost in it for proof. Like many he delved into jazz-funk and Latin influenced grooves. The results were always deep and always impressive. To be honest, I really can't think of anything Bobby has ever done that's been dull. Surely not throughout the 60s and 70s at least. His name never quite reached the superstar status of some of his counterparts but make no mistake, Bobby Hutcherson is one of the all time greats. Rest In Peace my fellow Aquarian.