The recordings that vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson cut for Blue Note play out like a jazz encyclopedia. He relished the hard bop of the label's '50s and '60s heyday but eventually experimented with post-bop, free jazz and, increasingly, contemporary grooves of the late '60s through 1977, when he defected from the label.
This summer, Hutcherson is back with Blue Note for recordings representing two different eras. The first is Enjoy the View, a new collaborative record cut with saxophone star David Sanborn and organist/trumpeter Joey DeFrancesco with strong support from drummer Billy Hart. The other is a vinyl-only reissue of the 1968 album Total Eclipse, made at the height of Hutcherson's post-bop period.
The near-simultaneous release of both recordings is part of a celebration honoring the Blue Note's 75th anniversary. That makes the label two years older than Hutcherson himself.
Hutcherson has formed a number of strong saxophone alliances through the years. The one with Sanborn is new, but the two create a cool, immediate simpatico over the loose groove that Hart designs on Delia (a Sanborn composition from 2003). The relationship between the vibraphonist and DeFrancesco is equally tasteful (the two were bandmates for roughly a decade), as evident by the pair's calm, conversational turns on Don Is, a new DeFrancesco tune named after current Blue Note chieftain Don Was.
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It should be noted that Sanborn, who has long ties to the smooth-jazz world, checks his slicker profile at the door on Enjoy the View. For Hey Harold, a 1971 tune that Hutcherson initially cut with tenor sax great Harold Land, Sanborn's playing reflects a soulful immediacy that has always been on display in performance but appears less frequently in his recorded work.
The late Land lives again on the reissue of Total Eclipse. The recording was the first collaboration between the saxophonist and Hutcherson, who was in a period of considerable artistic transition at the time of these sessions.
The opening Herzog is full of the swift, agile bop that defined his classic albums from earlier in the decade, but the title tune is a luxurious but substantial post-bop work distinguished by two elegant solos presented one after the other by Land and Hutcherson, with a young Chick Corea offering a third that is full of stoic grace.
Pompeian, which places Land on flute and Hutcherson briefly on marimba, flirts with waltz patterns and subsequent dissonance but also hints at the more modern turns and exchanges that the two would embark on in the future (especially on 1970's exquisite San Francisco, a record that screams for a reissue).
Here, though, Total Eclipse becomes a beautiful but restless portrait of a young jazz spirit that shines with mature contentment on Enjoy the View.