Happenings: Bobby Hutcherson

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Bobby Hutcherson made a major contribution to one of my favourite tracks, Joe Henderson’s wonderful Mode For Joe. His vibes solo boosts a strong piece of music into the hyperspace of the outstanding.

This has encouraged me to buy a string of the vibraphonist’s recordings as leader in the hope that they might contain music that captivates me to the same extent. Unfortunately, I haven’t heard anything that hits the spot in the same way- but every so often I revisit Bobby’s albums to see if I’m missing something.

The root of my difficulty is partly that Hutcherson is probably a bit too complex and avant-garde in his repertoire for my taste. Then, there’s the timbre of the vibraphone, which can introduce a somewhat cool metallic quality to a piece- perhaps because playing the vibes involves banging a piece of metal. Still, I’ll persevere and a long solo Good Friday car journey offered another opportunity.

So another Good Friday without my favourite football team still offered up a contest- could Happenings compete with and defeat the sights of Birmingham, as seen from the M6? The Blue Note gang would be represented by the Crips and Bloods, Birmingham by the Peaky Blinders!

First up, Aquarian Moon, starting as a distant Birmingham skyline comes into sight on my approach from the south. The track has an air of expectancy and excitement and fits with my delight at reaching a significant landmark on a long slow journey. OK, so the Birmingham skyline palls by comparison to New York or even locally to Liverpool’s Three Graces but the tune holds its own. It’s still an early draw in the battle for my attention.

Bouquet is quiet and reflective but it is up against the architectural brutalism of Fort Dunlop. Midway through the first half and Birmingham strikes. One nil to the City of Birmingham!

Rojo has a bit of Latin life stirring and manages to see off Spaghetti Junction and Villa Park (despite a few good visits there to semi-finals back in the pre- New Wembley FA Cup days). Bobby, as fine a striker as you would expect a man with multiple mallets to be, has equalised and it is one all- with everything to play for. A YouTube clip follows:

Click or touch the arrow to play.

Maiden Voyage is up against the climb to the Perry Bar interchange. Both bore me and one is seriously over-rated in my opinion. At one all, we are stuck, veering towards a tedious stalemate.

Head Start plays as I drive down the hill. It is up against mid-table opposition from a distant IKEA and the life and optimism of the music wins through by a narrow margin to find the net. The deadlock is broken. Two-one to the boy from Blue Note!

Well into the second half and Hutcherson’s underwhelming ballad When You Are Near just does enough in defence against a distant Brownhills and motorway signs informing me of long delays through Staffordshire.

Into the last seven minutes of the match with Hutcherson holding a narrow advantage. However, the crash bang percussive avant-gardism of The Omen annoys the referee (me). Metropolitan Birmingham get a late penalty. Hilton Park Services steps up to wrong foot Hutcherson who clearly has his mind on other things.

So there you have it. The game for my attention between Bobby Hutcherson and the Bank Holiday drag along the M6 ends up in an uninspiring score draw (two all).

I will have one more go with Bobby Hutcherson when I can get hold of a fairly priced copy of The Kicker, which can be a little hard to find. In the meantime, I can’t speak too highly of Hutcherson’s contribution to Mode For Joe and he is excellent on Grant Green’s Idle Moments too. However, if you are unfamiliar with his work, he may be a better squad player than an automatic selection for your collection. He is still going strong as a performer, currently working with David Sanborn and Joey DeFrancesco and, if I’m not mistaken, may be joining them for a late summer gig at Ronnie Scott’s. If I go, it had better be incognito for fear of my flippancy being rewarded with a sharp rap on the napper with a vibes mallet. The Reid Miles cover photo and design is great, by the way.

The band etc: Bobby Hutcherson (vibraphone and marimbas); Herbie Hancock (piano); Bob Cranshaw (bass); Joe Chambers (drums). Recorded: 8 February 1966. Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. Produced: Rudy Van Gelder. Sleeve Notes: Leonard Feather. Cover photos and design: Reid Miles. Issued as Blue Note 84231.

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