Although he takes no solos, Bobby Hutcherson's extraordinary Dialogue is largely shaped by pianist Andrew Hill. Hill contributes three of the six tunes, all substantial compositions that are more than simple vehicles for improvisation. His distinctive chords and turbulent phrasing color the entire date, providing a tenebrous sense of mystery from start to finish.
Mid-'60s Blue Note had the strongest roster of leaders and session players jazz has ever known, and Dialogue benefits greatly from this. Saxophonist/flutist Sam Rivers, trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, bassist Richard Davis and drummer Joe Chambers would be seen as a supergroup today, but they comprised the lineup for many of the label's albums. That said, even in stellar company, with Blue Note's great composers and arrangers, Dialogue stands out. Part of this is because there are no formulaic tracks. "Catta" has an insistent melodic line augmented by a beguiling stop-time phrase. Hill sets up a hypnotic montuno that is doubled by Chamber's powerful clave-based snare clicks. By the time Rivers enters on tenor, the piece has built up an irresistible head of steam. The saxophonist, with his characteristically sharp pitch, kicks things up further. Hubbard's solo is blues soaked, Hutcherson's lyrical but with an edge.
Still, what lingers most in the memory is the tandem Hill-Chambers patterns. "Idle While" shows Chambers to be an impressive composer in this own right. It's a waltz with an unusual front line of muted trumpet, flute and vibes, the combination of which allows the time to float. Once the solos begin, Davis serves as a rhythmic fulcrum, a kind of intermediary between Chambers, who maintains strict time, and the soloists, who are given a lot of discretion. For me, the two signature pieces are the title track and Hill's unforgettable "Ghetto Lights." The former is one of the freest performances in the Blue Note canon. A cascading, stop/start melody played by Hutcherson and Hill introduces the piece, and from there the group enters a collective free zone, anchored lightly by Hill's occasional suggestions from the piano. The piece is 10 minutes of intuitively concentrated communication, utilizing the unusual tonal palette of Harmon-muted trumpet, bass clarinet, and marimba. "Ghetto Lights," with its beautiful bluesy melody and a structure based largely on a teeter-totter two chord vamp with a pivot, is exactly the kind of piece that musicians of this caliber love to sink their teeth into. Each gets his chance. Hubbard sticks with the blues, muted and urgently vocal. Rivers, on soprano, is lyrical, building a solo cautiously, one note at a time, ending in a kind of dance. Hutcherson's playing combines the best elements of both previous solos. At one point, Hill, Davis, and Chambers lock into an implied double time that is sublime.
Dialogue is one of those rare projects where the abstract and the accessible find common ground, presenting six master jazz musicians working at the very top of their games.