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Stick-Up! (1966)

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Billy Higgins

One of Bobby Hutcherson's best albums, Stick-Up! was also his first official release not to feature drummer Joe Chambers, who was a major part of Hutcherson's outside leanings. Instead, Stick-Up! stakes out the middle ground between hard bop and the avant-garde, offering a set of structured yet advanced modal pieces indebted particularly to Coltrane. Hutcherson's originals (five out of six selections) show him at the top of his game as a composer, and the ensemble's playing is tight and focused throughout, but what really lifts Stick-Up! to the top tier of Hutcherson's discography is its crackling energy. It's quite possibly the hardest-swinging album he ever cut, and part of the credit has to go to the stellar rhythm section of McCoy Tyner on piano, Herbie Lewis on bass, and Billy Higgins on drums, who lay down a driving, pulsating foundation that really pushes Hutcherson and tenorist Joe Henderson. Tyner in particular is a standout, charging relentlessly forward on the intricate "8/4 Beat" and "Black Circle" and lending a Coltrane-ish flavor to the spiritually searching "Verse." The lone non-Hutcherson piece, Ornette Coleman's sometimes overlooked "Una Muy Bonita," is given a fantastic, rollicking treatment as catchy as it is progressive, proving that the piece is a classic regardless of whether it's interpreted freely or with a steady groove and tonal center. Hutcherson's originals are uniformly strong and memorable enough to sit very well next to it, and that -- coupled with the energetic performances -- ranks Stick-Up! with Dialogue and Components as the finest work of Hutcherson's tenure at Blue Note. ~ Steve Huey