April 19, 2016

Bobby Hutcherson - Happenings (1967)

Happenings is a contender for my favorite Bobby Hutcherson album, right along with Dialogue (though I probably play this one more). I'd also call it his most under-appreciated work. This is a rare vibraphone quartet album (I don't think I've heard any, really, other than Andrew Hill's Judgment and a few Modern Jazz Quartet records), and it makes me wonder why this wasn't a more popular format. The isolated piano and vibraphone working together create some soft features that no horns could ever imitate, especially when you're blessed with the pensive gracefulness of Herbie Hancock. I think this album is the definitive showcase of Bobby Hutcherson as a composer (Andrew Hill and Joe Chambers were the composers on Dialogue). Writing infectious hard bop melodies or jittery post-bop is one thing, but keeping your listener engaged through the slow and quasi-modal jazz that makes up so much of this album is probably quite difficult. The only non-Hutcherson composition on here is of course Herbie Hancock's iconic modal masterpiece, Maiden Voyage. I'll say, without second thought, that this is better than Herbie's original recording and also the best version I've ever heard. Maiden Voyage is a piece that shouldn't have horns at all, especially not a trumpet and especially not the humdrum saxophone of George Coleman. If you can believe it, the already peaceful composition is several times more serene on Happenings. The rest of the tracks follow in suit. Bouqet and When You Are Near are the other two highlights from the album; not that they're any better than the other stellar tracks, they're just very unique compositions and show off a level of thoughtful restraint heard in very few other jazz pieces. I also have to give credit to the dynamic drummer, Joe Chambers, for brilliantly transferring energy to where it needs to be for this album; he really, really paces this well.  A chill-out album no doubt. Musical opiates.