Cruisin' The 'Bird

Bobby Hutcherson

Cruisin' The 'Bird

Cruisin' The 'Bird

Bobby Hutcherson, vibes; Ralph Moore, tenor sax; Buddy Montgomery, piano;
Rufus Reid, bass; Victor Lewis, drums.

1. All or Nothing at All (Lawrence-Altman) 6:48
2. Cruisin' the 'Bird (Hutcherson) 6:09
3. Sierra (Hutcherson) 8:33
4. If You Do (Hutcherson) 6:45
5. Imminent Treasures (Hutcherson) 6:39
6. Chelsea Bridge (Strayhorn) 5:08
7. Come Rain or Come Shine (Mercer-Arlen) 6:11
8. On the Delta (Hutcherson) 5:42
Produced by Orrin Keepnews
Cover Photo by Phil Bray
Cover Design by Phil Carroll
Recording by Danny Kopelson
Recorded on April 15-16, 1988

If one can sustain his involvement in an art form with the amount of seriousness that is necessary to expand even a superior talent, time will inevitably add rich textures of human expression to his work. Bobby Hutcherson is such an artist: he plays much, much better today than when he first began getting notice some twenty-five years ago.

Back then, Hutcherson was a part of recording sessions and performing groups in what was considered the avant garde. But what clearly separated him from far too many of those who were getting a good deal of attention at the time was that he could always swing, knew music well and was busy learning even more, had fine command of his instrument, and was taking care to absorb thoroughly the heritage of jazz. Accordingly, Hutcherson's name was sure to come into the conversation when the titans of the vibraphone were being discussed.

Harmonically, Hutcherson has kept his ears open, and is undaunted by complex harmonic structures, can find more than mundane scales to run in modal situations, and knows the logic of music so thoroughly that the freest possible situation doesn't bother him. As this writer put it on an earlier occasion: "I doubt there is another vibist who has so completely absorbed the bebop vocabulary, the jazz designs of Miles Davis, the harmonic extensions of John Coltrane, the uses of pentatonic and modal material, the hot and sour harmonies of Monk. He can move chromatically, sequentially, or motifically from the bottom of the instrument to the top, or vice versa."

As he proves on "Sierra" and "Imminent Treasures," Hutcherson is also a wonderful marimba player, bringing out of the wooden instrument a sound that is in no danger of selling out to the unimaginative cliches of exoticsm. Were he not capable of the kind of lilt heard from his vibes on "Come Rain or Come Shine," one might be tempted to rank his marimba performances as superior. Although in actuality it might only be equal to his work on metal, the marimba playing does bring a special quality to the music, perhaps because the timbre Hutcherson draws from it is so unusual and fits so well with his taste for dark textures.

It is probable that the tendency to reach for these kinds of colors comes from hearing such textures in Afro-American religious and secular song--a decided influence on the work of Bobby Hutcherson. There are moments on Chelsea Bridge, for instance, where one can hear things that are reminiscent of Billy Eckstine, vibrato and all! There are other places, even on that same tune, when the specter of Nat Cole's crooning is pushed into the air by Hutcherson's mallets and that jaunty elegance is reborn in an unexpected place. It doesn't matter whether or not Hutcherson was consciously thinking of them; an artist of his magnitude is constantly remaking the beautiful for his own purposes. And there can be no doubt that Bobby Hutcherson is in constant pursuit of beauty, regardless of how it is to be reached, whether at the moseying pace of a ballad or at an express tempo.

His involvement with the beautiful shapes the overall sound of this recording, giving it a connection to those strong double-headed Ben Webster dates of years ago where the music loped along or carefully foamed up the phonetics of melodic grandeur, then reached down into the gutbucket chamber of the heart for a howl of human triumph more-than-martial in intensity. This recording has those same things going for it. Hutcherson is now in such command of what he wishes to do that one of the greatest problems in art--sustaining a mood--is solved not only in his own playing but in the work of those with whom he has surrounded himself on this date. Like all fine leaders, he knows just what he needs and understands that the jazz band must always jell personalities, since so much of what is heard is improvised. The result is an ensemble of seasoned players, plus one who might be new to many listeners but won't be for very long:

Buddy Montgomery is known for both his vibes work and his piano playing, the latter having been his central focus over the last several years. He adds much to the date, especially a continuity of attack that gives a smoothness to the transition from Hutcherson's playing to his. He approaches the keyboard of the piano so much like one would a vibraphone that there are moments when Montgomery, in moving into the foreground after a Hutcherson solo, not only continues the attack but actually extends upon the ideas laid down by the leader. Rufus Reid and Victor Lewis have worked together in a number of bands and on a few particularly good recent record dates. I am informed that Reid, asked for an opinon when the question of a drummer came up during the pre-planning stages, lobbied heavily for Lewis. Even casual listening will reveal why: Lewis is simply one of the best in the business.

And then there is the saxophonist! Ralph Moore is one of the splendid reasons why the future of jazz is assured. His is a sound permeated by emotion, but Moore is not one of those whose reliance on feeling has come at the cost of artistic authority. He is in the best tradition of those players who have evolved in the wake of the intellect that men such as Coleman Hawkins, Chu Berry, Don Byas, Lucky Thompson, Paul Gonsalves, and John Coltrane brought to the playing of the tenor saxophone (which is Moore's main instrument). But he is essentially one whose knowledge is ever at the service of song. Unlike many impressed by the imposing harmonic legacy of Coltrane, Moore has heard--and heard well--the underlying inclination to crooning. He doesn't fall into one-dimensional and rhythmically static phrasing, chooses succulent melodic directions that contrast with and complement his more rapid playing, lets his ideas breathe, and lifts his statements up over the rhythm section for effects that swoop and glide. As virtuoso saxophonist and harmonic scholar George Coleman says: "Ralph Moore sounds very, very good. Now, he's one of the young players I enjoy listening to. He has a good sound, good technique, and you can hear that he's done his harmonic home work. People should pay a lot more attention to him."

All told, this is a date with that unusual quality Martin Williams once noted in the Miles Davis of thirty years ago and in the Modern Jazz Quartet: turned down to a lower volume, the music can sneak by as background ambience; turned up, it will fully provide the aesthetic pleasure demanded of art. That Bobby Hutcherson has evolved the ability to bring this off so effortlessly is proof of the work he has done on his own talent and his music (not only as a player but also as a composer). It is also proof of how well the sound of jazz is faring even in this remarkably commercial age.

--STANLEY CROUCH, from the liner notes.


Any comments, additions or suggestions should be adressed to:
The Hard Bop Homepage / Eric B. Olsen /
Other Web Sites:                                   
The Film Noir 'net               A History of Horror     
The War Film Web            Author Eric B. Olsen