Bobby Hutcherson - The Kicker

Bobby Hutcherson The Kicker (Blue Note 1963/99)

It can only be attributed to the risk of market overflow that Blue Note didn’t release vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson’s de jure debut album The Kicker in 1964, a superb date including Joe Henderson, Duke Pearson and Grant Green.

Bobby Hutcherson - The Kicker

Personnel

Bobby Hutcherson (vibraphone), Joe Henderson (tenor saxophone), Grant Green (guitar B1-3), Duke Pearson (piano), Bob Cranshaw (bass), Joe Chambers (drums)

Recorded

on December 29, 1963 at Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey

Released

BST 21437 in 1999

Track listing

Side A:
If Ever I Would Leave You
Mirrors
For Duke P.
Side B:
The Kicker
Step Lightly
Bedouin


HHutcherson & Henderson. Sounds like the misfits of the insurance business have joined forces in a run-down office on the outskirts of town. But the late Bobby Hutcherson and Joe Henderson are regarded as towering figures of mainstream and avant-leaning jazz now, and as burgeoning class acts back then at the tail end of 1963, when they were really hitting their stride. Hutcherson had built a reputation first on the West Coast, subsequently in NYC, he had played on front-line beauties as Jackie McLean’s One Step Beyond and Grachan Monchur’s Evolution. Henderson had recorded two albums as a leader, Page One and Our Thing. The Kicker was left on the shelves, seeing release as late as 1999. It is puzzling why Lion and the Wolff decided against release. They probably figured they had enough quality sessions to promote. Perhaps Joe Henderson was the kind of perfectionist disgruntled by the rough edges around a phrase or two. It doesn’t have to perfect, Joe. Coming with your package of supple, soaring post bop, we just might come to like that extra bite.

Regardless, there’s a pairing of talent attuned to each other’s needs and shining brightly during a set of original compositions and one standard, a sprightly mid-tempo take of Lerner and Loewe’s If Ever I Would Leave You. The crystalline, ringing vibes of the versatile modernist Bobby Hutcherson. Joe Henderson, already a strong-willed counterpart of a yes-man. Duke Pearson, inspiring accompanist, weaver of mellifluous lines. Grant Green, featured on side B’s three tracks, the prolific in-house guitarist of the Blue Note label, a class act in both hardboppin’ and modal contexts. Around that time, November 4 and 15 to be exact, 1963, Green, Henderson, Pearson and bassist Bob Cranshaw had cooperated on one of Grant Green’s career highs, Idle Moments. The mutual understanding is evident.

Hutcherson was a major contributor to Eric Dolphy’s free jazz classic Out To Lunch on February 5, 1964. He would venture into more front-line territories soon, recording his de facto debut Dialogue, and subsequently, the avant-garde LP side of Joe Chambers tunes on Components and the Happenings album with Herbie Hancock in 1965. A travel into uncharted territory. A balancing act of simplicity of expression and complex context. New vistas for vibraphonists ever since, the guys spellbound by Hutcherson’s siren-like cadenzas, the move into dark-hued corners of the mind, the zing of his angelic sound.

Already apparent on The Kicker is Hutcherson’s alert ear for group dynamics and controlled, conversationalist approach to the development of his expertly meandering lines. The great mood piece by Joe Chambers, Mirrors, suits Hutcherson to a tee. Throughout the set, which also consists of Henderson’s The Kicker and Step Lightly, Hutcherson’s For Duke P. and Pearson’s Bedouin, the rhythm section flawlessly and in uplifting fashion underscores Hutcherson’s vibe abacadabra and Henderson’s playful imagery. Henderson’s notes form fine-tuned blue and odd clusters, placed with a keen, floating sense of timing.

Though the title track, The Kicker, doesn’t thrive on the background riffs that propel the soloists into action as convincing as the classic take of Horace Silver on the Song For My Father album (including Henderson) and Henderson’s own version in 1967, it is a smokin’ affair, benefiting from the addition of Green in the ensemble and the guitarist’s propulsive, vivacious statements. Perhaps the moving, succulent phrases of Hutcherson and Henderson during Step Lightly should be attributed to the presence of Green, blues master at heart.

Surely Dialogue made up for a more distinct debut. But The Kicker remains a winner, having earned its rightful place among the hard bop cookies that rolled off the assembly line of the Blue Note label in the early sixties.

Joe Henderson - The Kicker

Joe Henderson The Kicker (Milestone 1967)

After a series of vanguard jazz releases and collaborations on Blue Note in the mid-sixties, Joe Henderson switched to Orrin Keepnews’ Milestone label and delivered the more straightforward, hard-swinging album The Kicker. Relatively more straightforward. Henderson’s characteristic, adventurous playing style has remained intact. An absolutely sizzling album.

Joe Henderson - The Kicker

Personnel

Joe Henderson (tenor saxophone), Mike Lawrence (trumpet), Grachan Monchur (trombone), Kenny Barron (piano), Ron Carter (bass), Louis Hayes (drums)

Recorded

on August 10 & September 27, 1967 at Plaza Sound Studios, New York City

Released

as Milestone 9008 in 1968

Track listing

Side A:
Mamacita
The Kicker
Chelsea Bridge
If
Side B:
Nardis
Without A Song
O Amor Em Paz
Mo’ Joe


Henderson must be about the most perfect saxophonist in modern jazz. Exceptional chops, a powerful tone and supurb execution. He’s a tenor sax innovator that has explored the outermost regions of the instrument as well as a great storyteller who keeps constant focus on one of mainstream jazz’ most important axioma, meaningful simplicity. A flexible tenorist that moved just as easily ‘in’ and ‘out’. Henderson might not instill cathartic listening experiences like John Coltrane. Nevertheless, a sensitive and fiery personality rings through Henderson’s strong, probing, eccentric lines, lines that suck one into a thrilling tale, including the added bonus of refreshing wit. One cannot possibly subdue feelings of awe for Henderson’s crafty, passionate game. Keeping blues phrasing to a minimum, Henderson’s lines instead slyly suggest the blues.

Henderson was in the thick of mid-sixties hard bop as well as vanguard jazz, recording acclaimed albums as Mode For Joe, In & Out and Inner Urge. Henderson recorded with Kenny Dorham, Grant Green and Horace Silver and appeared on avant-leaning Blue Note albums, among them Andrew Hill’s Point Of Departure, Pete LaRoca’s Basra and Larry Young’s Unity. One wonders why Henderson, during such a prolific period, traded Blue Note for Milestone. Perhaps Henderson regretted the fact that label boss Alfred Lion retired in 1967. (Lion moved to Mexico, his partner Francis Wolff took over production duties, assisted by pianist Duke Pearson, until his death in 1971) In the guise of Orrin Keepnews, Henderson certainly met a like-minded, equally perceptive label boss.

The septet of The Kicker, including young lions Mike Lawrence and Kenny Barron, cuts loose on three classic Henderson compositions. The Latin tune Mamacita swings hard and Henderson embellishes it with confident legato and dead-pan asides. Henderson initially recorded Mamacita with Kenny Dorham, on the trumpeter’s swan song as a leader in 1964, Trompeta Toccata (read review here). The Kicker and Mo’ Joe, both of which were recorded by Horace Silver while Henderson was part of the hard bop pioneer’s quintet in 1964, are explosive, stunning versions of Henderson’s intricate hard bop anthems.

The apparent ease with which Henderson personalizes standards that were carved in stone for posterity by legendary forebearers, is impressive. Billy Strayhorn’s Chelsea Bridge, which showcased Duke Ellington’s prime tenorist Ben Webster in the forties, gets a vital treatment, tender, endearing yet driving. Saxophonist Benny Green typified Chelsea Bridge as the most ethereal composition in jazz history (in his liner notes for Tommy Flanagan’s 1975’s album Tokyo Recital.) Henderson’s breathy excursion certainly does justice to that eternal charm. Henderson fastens the pace of Without A Song, which was performed beautifully, for instance, by Sonny Rollins on the tenorist’s eponymous The Bridge in 1961. Louis Hayes’ and Ron Carter’s free-flowing accompaniment is a big part of the take’s artistic succes. Speaking about Hayes, Louis Hayes’ swift, furious drumming lifts the whole proceedings to an entirely different level. He’s outrageous!

Henderson also wrote the idiosyncratic blues If, taking it at a fast pace, starting with staccato notes, then exploring the low and high register, sprinkling his ‘out’ phrases with a myriad of slurs, while remaining continuous flow and swing. Riveting stuff.

Kenny Dorham - Trompeta Toccata

Kenny Dorham Trompeta Toccata (Blue Note 1964)

Nothing prepares you for what’s going to happen after Kenny Dorham’s lyrical opening statements in duet with the piano of Trompeta Toccata’s title track. What follows is a buoyant Afro-Cuban gem, the opening track of one of the trumpeter’s finest recordings.

Kenny Dorham - Trompeta Toccata

Personnel

Kenny Dorham (trumpet), Joe Henderson (tenor saxophone), Tommy Flanagan (piano), (Richard Davis, bass), Albert Heath (drums)

Recorded

on September 14, 1964 at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey

Released

as BLP 8418 in 1964

Track listing

Side A:
Trompeta Toccata
Night Watch
Side B:
Mamacita
The Fox


Trompeta Toccata suggests Dorham played cousin to Blue Note’s front-line albums of the period like Andrew Hill’s Point Of Departure and Herbie Hancock’s My Point Of View. Dorham played on Point Of Departure alongside Richard Davis. But those albums are more dark-hued. Trompeta Toccata bears a lithe charm all its own. Like his colleagues, Dorham stretched the boundaries of hard bop, playing more freely, with a varied, more percussive style. At the same time, Dorham retained his trademark lyrical style and sweet-sour tone. The combination of the experimental Richard Davis, combative Joe Henderson, elegant Tommy Flanagan and versatile Albert Heath guarantees a lot of interesting textures.

Trompeta Toccato didn’t suddenly came out of the blue. Both Dorham’s albums that preceded it, Matador (with Jackie McLean) and Una Mas broadened the horizons of the trumpeter. Dorham had cooperated with Joe Henderson as well, notably on the abovementioned Una Mas and Henderson’s dates Page One (that included the oft-covered Dorham winner Blue Bossa), Our Thing and In & Out, a title that suggests the same modus operandi as Trompeta Toccata. A key figure on a lot of Blue Note’s vanguard sessions (A series of Andrew Hill albums, Joe Henderson’s In & Out, Booker Ervin’s The Freedom Book) and the iconic Out To Lunch from Eric Dolphy) is the brilliant bassist Richard Davis. Davis’s cutting edge bass playing, including virtuoso sliding technique, is strongly featured on Trompeta Toccata. His work on the title track, advanced but firm and coherent at the same time, is a gas. The contrast between the experiments of Davis and Tommy Flanagan’s impressionistic voicings is very enjoyable.

Meanwhile Dorham and Henderson are preoccupied with the melody, stressing staccato runs that start or finish with unexpected notes. Dorham’s husky edge and playful growls mix well with Joe Henderson’s virile, angular phrases. Dorham had been a premier advocate of the Carribean theme in jazz since the early fifties. The title track, consisting of a contagious 6/8 rhythm pattern, is one of his liveliest performances.

Joe Henderson’s Mamacita is equally catching. It’s a more mellow, less pithy take than Henderson’s re-visit on his 1967 Milestone album The Kicker. The medium-tempo Night Watch’s elaborate structure doesn’t take anything away from its unmistakable blues feeling. Dorham sprinkles the landscape of the fast-paced The Fox with a shower of elegant, fluent lines.

I like the fact that Blue Note resisted the temptation to go for a hit record by putting a more straightforward danceable track like Mamacita at the start of the album, as the label often did. (which worked out pretty swell, by the way) But for Dorham’s album, Blue Note favored the lengthy title track as the opener. It immediately states Dorham’s intentions and attributes to the album’s coherence. I’m fond of the album’s brisk, ebullient atmosphere.

Unfortunately, it was Kenny Dorham’s last album as a leader. In hindsight, the underappreciated Dorham, ‘the uncrowned king of the trumpet’, as Art Blakey so aptly put it in his 1955 live show introductions for the original Jazz Messengers (as captured on Live At The Bohemia I & II), was ready for public acceptance. More than ready, having stood at the helm of bebop alongside Charlie Parker in the late forties and early fifties and with a batch of classic albums as Afro-Cuban and Quiet Kenny and sideman appearances on a series of outstanding hard bop recordings in his pocket. Instead, Dorham slid into obscurity and untimely passed away in 1972 due to kidney disease.

But if you’re going to have a swan song, Trompeta Toccata more than qualifies.