Joe Henderson (tenor sax)
Bobby Hutcherson (vibes)
Grant Green (guitar, tracks 4 - 6)
Duke Pearson (piano)
Bob Cranshaw (bass)
Al Harewood (drums)
Recorded on December 29th, 1963
If Ever I Would Leave You; Mirrors; For Duke P; The Kicker; Step Lightly; Bedouin
Led by another of the sixties' undervalued players, Bobby Hutcherson, whose subtle and swinging vibe playing adds a vital additional dimension, "The Kicker" contains two classic Joe Henderson originals - the title track "The Kicker" and "Step Lightly". Add to this Duke Pearson's "Bedouin", Bobby Hutcherson's own "For Duke P" and Joe Chambers' classic "Mirrors" together with the Lerner and Loewe standard "If Ever I Would Leave You" and the scene is set for a seldom recognised classic.
The personnel is the same as for Grant Green's successful "Idle Moments", recorded one month earlier in November 1963. Perhaps more significantly, both Joe Henderson and Bob Cranshaw are back in the same studio (The Van Gelder studio at Englewood Cliffs) just eight days after being there for the recording of Lee Morgan's "The Sidewinder".
Mysteriously this seminal album was not released by Blue Note at the time and was finally only made available as a limited edition 36 years later in 1999!
Side 1 (the first three tracks) is close to the"Idle Moments" feel. Joe Chambers' "Mirrors" is a laid back ballad which achieved its first release on Freddie Hubbard's album "Breaking Point". Joe Henderson's sax playing is remarkable for the understanding shown in adding just the barest contribution that colours the performance but leaves the spotlight where it belongs - on Bobby Hutcherson's subtle and evocative vibe playing.
The feel and scope of "Mirrors" neatly complements the opening track, a long (10 minute) exposition of 'If Ever I Would Leave You" which had started life as one of the songs in the musical "Camelot". Starting as the most conventional sounding jazzed up version of a show tune, the playing gradually evolves via Joe Henderson's great playing and then Bobby Hutcherson's introduction of added depth via the vibes into a thorough deconstruction of the harmonic and rythmic simplicity of the original and its rebuilding into new entity all of its own - a relaxed and good natured version, perhaps, of John Coltrane's more fiery and uncompromising deconstruction of show tunes.
The groove achieved with Hutcherson, Henderson and Duke Pearson (later to become Blue Note's musical director) is deep indeed with Bill Cranshaw and Al Harewood providing excellent rhythm support. This continues with Hutcherson's "For Duke P", which is named after Pearson but left in the vault unamed until its 1999 release. There is plenty of scope when surrounded by such perceptive players for Hutcherson's improvisation to stretch out while Henderson is as inspirational as ever.
Side 2 (tracks 4-6) adds Grant Green to make the group into a six-piece. "The Kicker", which went on to become a Joe Henderson staple, is featured here for the first time. Its assymetric rhythm is at first disconcerting and it seems as if the performance is always on the edge and about to topple over yet the whole performance flows, suggesting that some of the danger and risk taking of the early Dial and Savoy sessions served up by Miles Davis and Charlie Parker can be recovered in jazz as it matures and progresses.
The second Henderson composition, "Step Lightly", is a personal favourite; a fourteen minute blues based workout that seems to move on and up and on and up. Nothing short of inspirational. The ultimate in the "cool cat" take on jazz; open, generous, thoroughly uplifting.
The final track features the Duke Pearson composition "Bedouin" which rounds of the album very well.
Overall, a fine example of open-handed, blues based jazz; released as a limited edition in the Blue Note "Connoisseur CD series" and well worth searching for.
Fast forward to 2006. Bobby Hutcherson is now a key member of the SFJazz collective, an eight piece band featuring Bobby Hutcherson (vibraphone), Joshua Redman (saxophone), Nicholas Payton (trumpet), Miguel Zenón (saxophone and flute), Renee Rosnes (piano), Matt Penman (bass), Eric Harland (drums), and Andre Hayward (trombone). Musical director is Joshua Redman and arrangments are by Gil Goldstein. The SFJAZZ Collective convenes in San Francisco each spring for a three-week residency which doubles as both an extended rehearsal period of the repetoire for the new season and as workshops and interaction points in jazz education programmes in the San Francisco area. The Collective then takes to the performance stage, including home season concerts under the auspices of the SFJAZZ Spring Season and a national and international tour. The pattern is to concentrate on the work of one jazz composer each year (together with new compositions by the band). Year One concentrated on the music of Ornette Coleman; Year Two on John Coltrane and the upcoming Year Three (2006) will feature music by Herbie Hancock.
Nonesuch has released highlights of the first and second years as albums which have received high critical aclaim both for presenting the best of the jazz tradition for a new, young audience and for the very high quality playing that they represent. Bobby Hutcherson may be the elder statesman of the group yet it is clear that the quality of his influence that was so strong in the Blue Note heyday has not been diminished by the passing of forty years. Listen, for example, to his playing on John Coltrane's "Naima" on "2".
Star rating: ****
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