Bobby Hutcherson – San Francisco (1970)

From the debris of late 60’s post free-jazz apocalypse emerged a recumbent souljazzfunk-hybrid like a misty new dawn, a gentler, more welcoming alternative to the ascendant Miles-offshoot fusion of Mahavishnu, Weather Report, Return To Forever et al. which now sounds rather more dated. Even the shape-shifting genius of Frank Zappa drifted into these murky waters briefly with his mock homage ‘Waka-Jawaka’, but quickly turned his attention to other areas of interest, never to return.

To say the early 70’s was a fertile period for music is an understatement of the highest order. The genie was out of the bottle and the world was immersed in golden stardust. Hidden in the many folds of the era can be found unimagined riches, this is where vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson’s San Francisco can be unearthed. A soothing tonic for those who could take no more of the formless noodling of fusion or the macho heroics of early hard-rock, Hutcherson quietly formed this gem with saxophonist Harold Land, his partner on a handful of adventurous jazz outings. There was always a cinematic shimmer in Hutcherson’s playing, and on this recording it seems to have a new level of expressive purpose. Having relocated to California after being arrested in New York for marijuana possession and subsequently losing his cabaret licence, he hooked up with Land and in Hutcherson’s name they recorded several long-shelved sides for Blue Note which are now all highly regarded as classics of the form.

San Francisco is imbued with the essence of dreamy Californian listlessness, even the straight-up funk of ‘Goin’ Down South’ and the jazz-rock ‘Ummh’ are carried by a languid stoner quality that surrounds them. The 7/8 mood piece ‘Prints Tie’ is the exception with its creepy paranoid ambience, meanwhile ‘Jazz’ is very like what Hutcherson and Land had been developing on their earlier albums, a synthesis of buoyant up-tempo and knotty. ‘A Night In Barcelona’ is a sleepy sea-sprayed bossa-nova smoothed over with interval-leaping unison flute and vibraphone lines and an effervescent solo by Hutcherson. The stand-out is the slowly rising and ebbing ‘Procession’, a meditation on the gradual unfolding of time and the evolving early morning contours of nature. Amid softly swelling cymbals a gentle call to prayer from a distant oboe envelops the timeless landscape, the day is reborn and the cycle continues ceaselessly. Still crisp and fresh sounding today, San Francisco is a sleeper that has become a much-loved and essential album in many collections.

Bobby Hutcherson died from emphysema on August 15, 2016. This interview provides a wonderful insight into how he started on the vibraphone and he also discusses his later highly distinguished career.

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