Perhaps more than any other contemporary jazz musician, vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson serves as the keeper of the ’60s flame: An innovator during his tenure at Blue Note Records, Hutcherson remains a significant a voice 50 years later. Hutcherson is keeping company with McCoy Tyner, Joe Chambers, James Spaulding, and one or two others in this category, but his playing is probably closest to what it was during his seminal period.
On Wise One he focuses entirely on material culled from the classic-period John Coltrane Quartet. Pianist Joe Gilman is thrust strongly into the McCoy Tyner role, which he fulfils with conviction. Guitarist Anthony Wilson plays the part of the second “horn,” and it’s enjoyable to hear this added tonal color so effectively employed. Glen Richman does exactly what a good bassist is required to do in this context: He holds down the fort, walking when it’s called for, anchoring the music with pedal points and double stops, and tying the rhythm section together. The surprise here is the drumming of the late Eddie Marshall. A quick, light-handed player, Marshall manages to capture, through implication, the power and pulse of Elvin Jones without adding unnecessary heft.
The title track is a Coltrane tune representative of many of his meditative compositions, but the group quickly moves it into straight-ahead territory. The leader does his unique modal/bluesy thing (I can’t think of anyone else who combines these idioms as well), and Gillman contributes a brainy follow-up. The group touches a lot of the bases within the larger genre: “Like Sonny” has a samba feel, the ante raised a bit by the propulsive combination of Richman and Marshall; “Aisha” features Hutcherson’s shimmering solo and Marshall’s detailed brushwork, and the powerful “Equinox” pulses with vitality, the rhythm section pushing at the outer edges, staying just within the margins of tempo. Hutcherson’s “Nancy with the Laughing Face” holds its own alongside Coltrane’s, with the leader exhibiting his peerless ballad approach, and Anthony Wilson is full-bodied and thoughtful. Wise One makes evident that 21st-century Bobby Hutcherson hasn’t lost a step from his days as a young tyro, and he’s still moving in fast enough company to keep himself (and his listeners) engaged.