For Sentimental Reasons is Vibraphonist's First Album in 8 Years; Soskin's One Hopeful Day Is A True All-Star Outing
While there may not be any apparent connection between vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson and pianist Mark Soskin, the links are evident if you think about it for a moment. Both musicians have lived in the San Francisco Bay Area (where Hutcherson continues to reside today) and have recorded for labels historically associated with this area (Landmark and Milestone respectively). And both musicians have enjoyed steady work as sidemen with iconic leaders while also leading bands in their own right.
Bobby Hutcherson is nothing short of a legend. One of the defining vibraphonists of his generation, he has been intermittently represented on record, with a twelve-year run on Blue Note Records starting in the mid-sixties and regular releases on Landmark through the eighties. Hutcherson is most famous for a series of sideman appearances on some of the defining modern jazz albums of the 1960s: Eric Dolphy's Out to Lunch, Jackie McLean's One Step Beyond and others by Grant Green, Andrew Hill, and Tony Williams.
These albums were instrumental in carving a path between the post-bop and avant-garde movements, and it was Hutcherson who first discovered an approach on the vibes within the new sound. There isn't a young player alive who holds a pair of mallets that doesn't owe Hutcherson a great debt.
His own sessions, however, always split the difference between past and future, keeping at least one foot firmly in the jazz tradition which had influenced him. And he has never given up on adding his integral voice to a collective: For Sentimental Reasons is Hutcherson's first album as a leader in eight years, much of the intervening time taken up by his work with the SFJazz Collective.
While the Collective looks to jazz standards, Hutcherson's new CD casts a warm glance further back to some of the songs from his youth. For Sentimental Reasons collects all familiar tunes which Hutcherson makes completely his own. While his reasons may be sentimental, his approach is anything but.
From the ringing notes which open the album, it is clear we are in the presence of a master. Hutcherson shapes every sound with a sculptor's hands; (I Love You) For Sentimental Reasons" has all the lushness of a with strings" session, conjured solely by the leader's voluptuous tone.
Hutcherson's longtime East Coast pianist Renee Rosnes attentively complements the vibist's sonic palette. On the opening number, she meets his rounded tone with a sharp, percussive attack. The two blend seamlessly on Ode to Angela," both mining a rich melodic vein; while Hutcherson's sharp, controlled strikes on Embraceable You" evoke the insistent entreaties of the implied lyric. Somewhere" offers an intimate, lyrical duet, Rosnes' empathetic comping supporting Hutcherson's singing read of the melody.
The balance of the rhythm section consists of bassist Dwayne Burno and drummer Al Foster. Burno's bass lines have backed everyone from Benny Golson to Bill Cosby to Digable Planets. Burno offers consummate support, always underlining the heart of each tune while filling in the spaces with tasteful interjections that feel right without distracting. And drummer Al Foster, who replaced Jack DeJohnette in Miles Davis' band and stayed for 13 years, excels in finding surprising ways to add rhythmic punctuatio n.
But this is Hutcherson's date, and the echoes of his vibes continue to ring long after the CD fades. Two highlights in particular stand out: just listen to the jagged, shattered-glass solo on his elegiac Spring is Here," another duet with Rosnes, where the vibrato seems to teeter precariously on a highwire; and his finale, a solo take on I'll Be Seeing You" which could become a signature, a yearning, tender farewell that ultimately seems to dissolve into the air. Let's hope it doesn't take another eight years for that sound to reappear again.
One Hopeful Day
With One Hopeful Day, it becomes abundantly clear that pianist Mark Soskin has learned one primary lesson from his many sideman gigs: how to stock your ensemble with the best and the brightest. His quartet on this album includes Chris Potter, recognized as possibly the leading saxophonist of his generation through his own records and his work with Dave Douglas, Dave Holland, Steely Dan, and Paul Motian; bassist John Patitucci, whose thick, rubbery sound may be one of the only that can stand up to Soskin's jabbing left hand, and has also buoyed the likes of B.B. King, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, and Stan Getz; and the remarkably intuitive Bill Stewart, longtime drummer for John Scofield, who has also worked with Maceo Parker, Joe Lovano, and Dave Holland.
One Hopeful Day begins and ends with Soskin's delicate, emotional solo piano. The album kicks off with a brief, hushed introduction which suddenly takes off at a gallop as Stewart begins a skittering rhythm over which Potter blows a sauntering On the Street Where You Live," the first of Soskin's radical rearrangements of well-known melodies. Even more drastically reimagined is Thelonious Monk's Bemsha Swing," taken at a jittering, stop-start pace, with an interlude newly composed by the leader.
Soskin also offers an urgent take on Chick Corea's Innerspace," which he first encountered as a sideman on a 1995 date with vibraphonist Joe Locke and has since wanted to revisit; the Rodgers and Hart standard It's Easy to Remember," rendered with a warm embrace, both forceful and soothing; and an upbeat End of a Love Affair," the Edward C. Redding composition best known for vocal renditions by Billie Holiday, Frank Sinatra, and Julie London.
The quartet is joined on two of the three Soskin originals by fellow Berklee grad John Abercrombie, whose wiry guitar runs a footrace with Potter's tenor on Step Lively" and reaches skyward with his soprano on Strive." The final new number is the title tune, a wistful ballad that vividly showcases Soskin's emotional side.
The CD closes with Soskin alone on Clare Fisher's Pensativa," where the pianist's influences congeal, part conservatory and part nightclub, swinging and cerebral. It's the perfect close to an album that leaves listeners hoping that Soskin will take charge more often in the future.
One Hopeful Day indicates the relative dearth of recordings with Soskin as a leader is not due to any lack of leadership abilities. Though he cedes generous amounts of spotlight to the other members of his quartet, Soskin is always in control, navigating the pathways along his six surprising reinventions of jazz standards and three powerful originals.
Beside his seven previous albums, Soskin's sensitive piano has accompanied Herbie Mann, Stanley Turrentine, Gato Barbieri, Claudio Roditi, Hendrik Meurkens, and David Fathead" Newman, among many others.