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BOBBY HUTCHERSON'S TOTAL ECLIPSE

November 13 2013

Vibes maestro Bobby Hutcherson linked up for the first time in the studio with Harold Land on the hard-bop tenor saxophonist’s 1968 album The Peace-Maker, released on the Cadet label. Recorded in two sessions (December 11, 1967 and February 26, 1968), the Harold Land Quintet disc didn’t make many waves. But it did forge the creative union that proved fertile on Bobby’s seven Blue Note releases featuring Harold beginning with 1968’s Total Eclipse and continuing through 1975’s Inner Glow.

While Bobby received plaudits for leaning toward the avant-garde (case in point, his angular mallet work on Eric Dolphy’s 1964 Blue Note album Out to Lunch), working with Harold—a straight jazz shooter who was a member of the Max Roach/Clifford Brown band and whose later lyricism conjured up comparisons to classic John Coltrane—proved beneficial to developing his melody-rich, harmonically involved music. Recorded on July 12, a few months after his first studio session with Harold, Total Eclipse featured Bobby leading his quintet that comprised an impressive rhythm section of pianist Chick Corea (who had recently recorded his breakthrough album Now He Sings, Now He Sobs), bassist Reggie Johnson and drummer Joe Chambers.

With the Hutcherson-Land collaboration just starting to bloom, Total Eclipse expands beyond a typical hard-bop exercise into an exploratory zone. With four of the five tracks composed by Bobby (a Chick tune sandwiched in the middle), the album dips in and out of his adventurous sensibility, ranging from the hard swinging to a space of ethereal expedition. The album opens with elation on “Herzog,” with Bobby and Harold sailing through the theme that opens into Chick inventively rippling a marvelous solo. Bobby follows with a joyous vibes romp (listen to him whooping it up in the background), which leads to Harold’s elated gusts before the entire band returns to the head, with Reggie and Joe keeping the driving beat steady. It’s a great entrée into Bobby’s world.

The title track, the beauty of the bunch, begins as a slow and emotional mood piece then takes off into exhilaration. Bobby lightly ruminates with his mallets, and Harold delivers a spirited break, with Chick supporting sparkling comps. Likewise “Same Shame” shifts from the melancholy to the animated with Harold’s smoky solo a highlight. It’s a pleasing 9:28 ride that clears the pathway for the finale, the trippy “Pompeian.” This is questing voyage music as Bobby opens it with a playful sing-songy waltz theme with Harold laying down his tenor in favor of the flute. The middle of the tune opens up in free form, as an avant-leaning, charged and complex romp with Bobby providing dark colors on the marimbas. The song ends on the whimsical light side again with the theme. A sublime excursion.

In the middle of Total Eclipse, Chick launches into the uptempo “Matrix,” a song from Now He Sings, Now He Sobs, which electrifies the band. Harold and Bobby speed in their solos and Chick revs up for a brief spin while Joe bashes on his drums and Reggie accelerates with a quickened walking bass line. It’s the liveliest jaunt of the collection. Chick, on a break from Miles Davis’s employ, played on the session after filling the piano chair at the quintet’s live dates at the Village Vanguard prior to the recording at Rudy Van Gelder’s New Jersey studio.

Total Eclipse offers the beginning glimpses of the vital Hutcherson-Land Quintet that stayed intact (the official band pianist became Stanley Cowell) into the ‘70s as one of the most important, but often underappreciated bands of that transformational period of jazz.