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Bobby Hutcherson: Head On

LP: Blue Note BST-84376

Tracks & Composers
1 At the Source: Ashes and Rust (Cochran)
2 At the Source: Eucalyptus (Cochran)
3 At the Source: Obsidian (Cochran)
4 Many Thousands Gone (Cochran)
5 Mtume (Hutcherson)
6 Clockwork of the Spirits (Cochran)

Oscar Brashear (tp, flh); George Bohanon (tb); Willie Ruff (frh); Fred Jackson (picc); Harold Land (ts, fl); Delbert Hill, Charles Owens, Herman Riley, Ernie Watts (reeds); Bobby Hutcherson (vib, mar); Todd Cochran (p, arr); William Henderson (el-p); Reggie Johnson, James Leary (b); Leon "Ndugu" Chancler, Nesbert "Stix" Hooper, Woody Theus (d); Donald Smith (vo) et al.

Recording Date & Location
1-3 July 1971, Los Angeles, CA

Head On is strangely beautiful and compelling. It’s unlike anything else in Bobby Hutcherson’s discography. With the exception of Hutcherson’s “Mtume,” the album features striking and original compositions by Todd Cochran. Cochran went on to record under the moniker Bayetè, including one LP with Hutcherson called Worlds Around the Sun. Cochran’s compositions draw from a wide swath of influences beyond the normal jazz realm, most especially from 20th century classical music. Like Bitches Brew, Head On has an almost orchestral quality, even during sparsely scored passages. Rather than sounding like a typical large jazz ensemble, the textures owe more to third stream and funk.

The album opens very gently with a three part suite titled “At the Source.” Part 1 of the suite, “Ashes and Rust,” has an otherworldly quality. Part 2, “Eucalyptus” is gentle and introverted, a duet between Hutcherson’s vibes and Cochran on the piano. With Part 3, “Obsidian,” bass, cymbals, and Harold Land’s tenor saxophone add to the texture. “Many Thousands Gone” features a larger group sound. After a solo by bassist James Leary, Bobby plays a long, rippling marimba and vibraphone solo over a churning rhythm section. Harold Land and Oscar Brashear both follow Hutcherson with impassioned solos. Again, this music seems to be coming from the same place as Bitches Brew. This is terrific, challenging music. Side 2 begins with the only Hutcherson composition on the disc, “Mtume.” It’s a grand, roiling, percussion-heavy composition that would sound right at home on one of McCoy Tyner’s Milestone recordings like Sama Layuca. The final work on the LP, “A Clockwork of the Spirits,” is marginally less effective, but it’s still quite unusual, especially some of the harmonies.

Head On has never been issued on CD. Since it’s an unusual record, I don’t expect that it will be any time soon. (It will not be included in the upcoming “Mosaic Select” set of Hutcherson’s music from the 1970’s.) Even so, if you have a taste for the something different and you still spin vinyl, this one is well worth tracking down.


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Original text copyright © Scott Mortensen 2006

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