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San Francisco (1970)

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Bobby Hutcherson

Bobby Hutcherson's late-'60s partnership with tenor saxophonist Harold Land had always produced soulful results, but not until San Francisco did that translate into a literal flirtation with funk and rock. After watching several advanced post-bop sessions gather dust in the vaults, Hutcherson decided to experiment with his sound a bit, but San Francisco still doesn't wind up the commercial jazz-funk extravaganza that purists might fear. Instead, Hutcherson and Land stake out a warm and engaging middle ground between muscular funk and Coltrane-style modality; in other words, they have their cake and eat it too. Joined by pianist/keyboardist Joe Sample (also of the Jazz Crusaders), acoustic/electric bassist John Williams, and drummer Mickey Roker, Hutcherson and Land cook up a series of spacious, breezy grooves that sound unlike any other record in the vibist's discography (even his more commercial fusion sessions). The selections -- all group-member originals -- often skirt the edges of fusion, but rarely play it as expected; they might float some spare tradeoffs over a loping, heavy bass groove, throw in an oboe solo by Land, or -- as on the slowest piece -- keep time only with intermittently spaced piano chords. It's all done with enough imagination and harmonic sophistication to achieve the rare feat of holding appeal for traditional jazz and rare-groove fans alike. It's a shame Hutcherson didn't explore this direction more, because San Francisco is not only one of his best albums, but also one of his most appealing and accessible. "A Night in Barcelona," "Goin' Down South," "Procession," "Ummh," "Jazz," and "Prints Tie."] ~ Steve Huey