Bobby Hutcherson: The Kicker

It’s unclear why Bobby Hutcherson’s The Kicker wasn’t released by Blue Note until 1999, despite being recorded in 1963. As far as I can tell, the album is flawless. It swings, it’s engaging, the musicians on the session were spectacular and there don’t appear to be any instrumental errors or microphone snafus.

The reason might have had something to do with the title track by tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson. Blue Note producer Alfred Lion seems to have wanted Henderson’s song to sound just right given its marketplace potential. I say this because Grant Green recorded The Kicker with Joe Henderson on his Solid album months later in June 1964, an album Lion also held back (the album was shelved and wouldn’t be released until 1979). Then Horace Silver recorded the song with Henderson on Song for My Father in October 1964, an album that was issued and became a sizable hit. Interestingly, Henderson wouldn’t record his own song as a leader until 1967, on an album of the same name for Milestone Records.

Or perhaps Hutcherson’s The Kicker was shelved due to consistency issues. Green appeared on only three tracks (was he late to the session?). This may have caused the album to sound instrumentally lopsided to Lion, at which point he may have decided to hold it. Or perhaps his decision was based on both reasons. Who knows.

What is clear is that Hutcherson’s The Kicker is an exceptional album. It features Joe Henderson (ts), Bobby Hutcherson (vib), Duke Pearson (p), Grant Green (g), Bob Cranshaw (b) and Al Harewood (d). The album opens with the standard If Ever I Would Leave You, from Lerner and Loewe’s Camelot, a beautiful rendition with a sterling solo by Henderson. It’s followed by Joe Chambers’ introspective Mirrors; Hutcherson’s For Duke P, a tribute to his pianist; Henderson’s The Kicker and Step Lightly (both major jazz works, with the latter being a personal favorite), and Pearson’s Bedouin.

There’s something so satisfying and uplifting about Hutcherson and Henderson together. Hutcherson’s vibes are like sprays of exclamation points, while Henderson’s saxophone has the feel of watercolor paint on a slick surface. His tone moves around in such a seamless, fluid way. Uniting these two textures was Pearson’s joyous piano and the rock-solid time of Cranshaw and Harewood. Green’s guitar adds the fuse.

Hats off to Mosaic’s Michael Cuscuna for uncovering and liberating this album at the end of the 1990s when he was producing CD reissues for Blue Note. It’s hard to understand why this one sat on a shelf for so long. [Image above of Michael Cuscuna from YouTube]

Bobby Hutcherson died in 2016; Joe Henderson died in 2001, Duke Pearson died in 1980, Grant Green died in 1979, Bob Cranshaw died in 2016 and Al Harewood died in 2014.

JazzWax tracks: You’ll find Bobby Hutcherson’s The Kicker here.

You can also find it at Spotify.

JazzWax clip: Here’s Step Lively

And here’s For Duke P.