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Bobby Hutcherson: 1941-2016

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Bobby Hutcherson, whose swinging, ringing modal approach on the vibraphone not only revolutionized the instrument's role and personality but also soulfully mirrored the tumultuous 1960s and early 1970s, died on Aug. 15. He was 75.

Of all the jazz musicians who recorded important albums in the 1960s, Hutcherson (and Wayne Shorter, to some extent) captured a feel that perfectly illustrated the era's growing frustration and confusion. During this period, the artistic landscape shifted in favor of pop, leaving African-American jazz artists in particular culturally disenfranchised. More so than many of his peers, Hutcherson and his albums embodied the feeling of suspended animation, philosophical thought, protest and courageous new directions.

His first leadership album to interpret the decade's jumble was Components (1965), particularly the title track and Little B's Poem, an original waltz that is achingly poignant in its gentle articulation.

From that point forward, Hutcherson's work became increasingly more introspective and expressive. Unlike other prominent jazz artists of the decade, Hutcherson managed to combine tenderness and the avant-garde to create message songs that remain relevant today. His important leadership albums for Blue Note in the '60 included Happenings (1966), Oblique (1967), Patterns (1968), Spiral (1968), Medina (1969), Now! (1969) and, most notably, Total Eclipse (1968), which is still a spiritual masterpiece.

Hutcherson carried this feel through the many decades that followed and was a significant influence on younger generations. One can hear his expansive approach to jazz the albums of Steely Dan, Earth Wind & Fire, Roy Ayers, the Crusaders, Terri Lyne Carrington, Naz, Esperanza Spalding, Jason Moran and Robert Glasper. Unlike other artists from the 1960s who delivered thunderous “lectures," Hutcherson's songs were virtuous dialogues with the listener that appealed to the heart. The vibes never sounded so meaingful.

Here are seven of my favorite Hutcherson tracks:

Here's Hutcherson's Little B's Poem from Components...

 

Here's Hutcherson's Head Start from Happenings...

 

Here's Hutcherson's 'Til Then from Oblique...

 

Here's Joe Chambers's title song from Patterns...

Patterns

Here's Hutcherson's mighty Herzog from Total Eclipse...

 

Here's Chambers's Ungano from Medina...

 

And here's Harold Land's Black Heroes from Now! (1969), with lead vocal by Gene McDaniels (A Hundred Pounds of Clay and writer of Roberta Flack's Feel Like Makin' Love)...

 

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
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