Bobby Hutcherson Returns To Blue Note

NEA Jazz Master Bobby Hutcherson makes his triumphant return to Blue Note Records, where the virtuoso vibraphonist started his career in the early '60s, with the superb album, Enjoy the View. The vibrant session is produced by Blue Note president Don Was and will be released on June 24 as a significant event in the label's 75th anniversary yearlong celebration. Recorded by an all-star collective of saxophonist David Sanborn and organist Joey DeFrancesco, and featuring drummer Billy Hart, the Hutcherson-sparked group plays seven original compositions that range from cool, gentle grooves to fiery outbursts of exuberance. At heart, the album soars thanks to the divine musical alchemy among the performers—an assemblage of veteran artists who play at the top of their game.

"I'm happy to have a recording come out on Blue Note, " says the 73-year-old Hutcherson. "I've had a long-term association with the label. I'm thrilled to be back here."

Was concurs: "Bobby not only has an incredible history with Blue Note as the preeminent voice of the vibes, but he still remains the giant of the instrument."

Coming on the heels of last year's signing of saxophone legend and one-time Blue Note artist Wayne Shorter, which resulted in his stellar live quartet album Without a Net—one of 2013's top jazz albums—Enjoy the View stands as a valuable addition to the classic catalog of the most-respected and longest-running jazz label in the world. "Our goal has been to maintain the underlying aesthetic that has governed Blue Note throughout its 75 years, " says Was. "It's very poetic to be doing it with the original guys who helped to define the label. For Bobby, it's more than coming full circle. It's also about guiding the course for the future."

In the tradition of the Blue Note label, founded by Alfred Lion in 1938, a day of rehearsal was scheduled preceding the recording of Enjoy the View at Ocean Way Studios in Hollywood. Even though it was the first time Sanborn had played with Hutcherson and Hart, the chemistry was immediate. "Don decided to have the rehearsal session recorded, " says DeFrancesco. "It's a good thing because we decided that three of the tunes—Dave's 'Delia' and two of my new songs written for the date, 'Don Is' and 'You'—were the best takes for the album."

DeFrancesco proved to be the common denominator of the session, having played with Hutcherson for some ten years, with Sanborn and Hart, with whom he has enjoyed a long history, including his second album as a leader (1990's Where Were You?). In New York when Was first came on board at Blue Note Records, after dinner he serendipitously dropped into the Blue Note club where DeFrancesco and Sanborn were performing. "I'd known Dave for some 25 years and I knew Joey as one of the best Hammond B3 organ players in the world, " Was says. "I just sat there and the set was so relaxed and grooving. I loved what I heard. So after the two sets, I met Joey upstairs and asked him what he thought about doing an album with Bobby and Dave. That's how it started."

DeFrancesco says that after that initial meeting, Was continued the conversation a year later when he was playing at Birdland in New York. A year after that the recording date took place in 2013, with DeFrancesco writing new songs that reminded him of Hutcherson.

"No matter how brilliant he is, Joey has that great enthusiasm which fueled the recording, " says Hart who has appeared on over 700 albums as a sideman and who recently released a new album on ECM. "As for Hutch, he's a magician and a musician. When he hits the mallets on the vibes, something special happens. Recording with him is so inspiring that it's like taking a master class. When I walked into the session, I had no idea what to do, but everything meshed so well. I had never played with Dave before even though I knew his work. He's really a star and his tune 'Delia' is to me the song of the album that unites the concept of the band."

"It was so great to discover the collective spirit of the session, " says Sanborn, whose alto saxophone has graced the recordings by a range of artists, from pop to r&b to jazz, and has recorded several albums as a leader in his 50+-year career. "I had never played with Bobby before, so it was a thrill to play with him. It was like going to graduate school. And even though I've known Billy for 30 years, I had never played with him either. It was so much fun recording with these guys. It was loose and flexible and it was like we were having a four-way conversation. When that happens with no egos, everyone talks. We were all just learning the tunes, yet the sessions went so fast. It was, blink your eyes and we're done. That experience was worth everything to me." Sanborn's two-song contribution (the buoyant "Delia" and the tender "Little Flower") comes from his 2003 Timeagain CD. "I brought those to the session because I could hear Bobby playing them, " he says. "They end up feeling looser and freer than the first time I recorded them."

While Hutcherson is the marquee player on this album who swings hard and romps on the uptempo tunes and soothes on the slower pieces, he modestly says, "I've always tried to be the person who is able to fit in with the music and add what I think it needs to top it off. What I play on the vibes always seems to be the cherry on top of the sundae. You can't play over the organ or the saxophone, which have more power, so I play softer and add to what Joey and Dave deliver. And Billy, he understands that you don't continually play one tempo. There will be the driving force and the automatic cruise where the ideas fall into place and the funky feel to playing behind the tune and the whip like the back of a hurricane and then the sprint to the finish line. Billy knows that." As a pre-release of Enjoy the View, the quartet performed for four nights at SFJAZZ Center on Feb. 20-23. The shows were all sold out well in advance of the concerts that featured tunes from the new album, and standing ovations greeted the band members at the end of each show. Hutcherson, always the joker in the crowd, attributes that to factors others than the concerts themselves. "Sometimes people give applause because they want you to stop, " he says. "And you'll get a standing ovation at the end of the show because people have stood up, put their coats on and are ready to leave the house."

He laughs, knowing full well that Enjoy the View deserves high praise—an assessment shared by Sanborn, DeFrancesco, Hart and Was.

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