His second album with saxophonist Harold Land, marimba and vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson’s “San Francisco” (1971) is often thought of as a bridging album both for him personally and for Blue Note, the label he had first recorded for as a leader on the “Dialogue” album from 1965.

Along with albums such as Donald Byrd’s “Electric Byrd” from 1970, “San Francisco” showed Blue Note transitioning from the hard bop of the sixties towards the jazz funk/fusion of the George Butler era and the Sky High productions of the Mizell Brothers.

In truth “San Francisco” wasn’t that much of a departure for Hutcherson who had always had a soulful and funky streak. And coming just a year after his psychedelic vocal jazz album “Now!”, the fact that Hutcherson wasn’t to be limited to the post bop and modal jazz he was known for, shouldn’t have surprised anyone.

As well as working as a sideman with Eric Dolphy, Archie Shepp and Jackie McLean in the 1960s. The Los Angeles born Hutcherson also recorded a series of 1960s albums for Blue Note as a leader that included  “Dialogue” (1965) and “Components” (1966) crossing between post bop, modal jazz, and the avant garde.

After returning to the West Coast from New York, Hutcherson co-led his first quintet with Harold Land. The first album he recorded with Land, “Total Eclipse” (1969) was a fairly straight ahead post bop album but was followed by the socially conscious vocal jazz album Now! (1969). The line up included both Strata East pianist Stanley Cowell and singer Eugene McDaniels, shortly to release his cult albums “Outlaw” and “Headless Heroes Of The Apocalypse.”

Like its predecessors “Total Eclipse” and “Now!”, “San Francisco” was to be one of a series of Blue Note albums produced by the label’s artist and arranger Duke Pearson as the sixties gave way to the seventies. Among them were such classic albums as Herbie Hancock’s “Speak Like a Child” , Wayne Shorter’s “Super Nova”, Stanley Turrentine’s “Another Story”, and a number of sessions with Donald Byrd and McCoy Tyner.

Hutcherson called on drummer Mickey Roker and John Williams on both upright and Fender bass. But it was the addition of keyboardist Joe Sample of The Crusaders that gave the album its jazz funk and fusion swagger.

Bobby Hutcherson. Circa 1970. Photo: Tom Copi/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images.

The album opened with ‘Going Down South,’ a track written by Sample as a dedication to his Texan roots. It was heavily sampled by Us3 on “Lazy Day” from the Blue Note album “Hand on the Torch” from 1993. Things then take a left turn with “The Prints Tee.” One of Hutcherson’s most exotic compositions, it revolved around a minimal electric bass and cowbell pattern before the mysterious interplay of Hutcherson’s marimba and Land’s tenor saxophone.

Despite the experimentations and forays into fusion, the album retains the post bop modality Hutcherson excelled at on the aptly entitled “Jazz”, while the soul jazz of “Ummh” shows another side to the vibes player’s dexterity. First appearing on Ice Cube’s 1993 track “Ghetto Bird” it was just one of many Hutcherson numbers sampled by hip hop producers.

Through the 1970s Hutcherson returned to modal jazz on albums like “Cirrus” (1974) but still found time to upset the purists by recording the ‘The Theme from M.A.S.H’ in an easy listening style on his “Linger Lane” fusion album of 1975. In the same year he recorded the Latin infused album “Montara”, the title track of which was sampled by Madlib on the “Shades of Blue” album for Blue Note. “San Francisco” similarly reached the ears of a new younger audience through DJs like Gilles Peterson who dedicated three shows to the vibraphone master when he sadly passed away in 2016.

Read on…“Hard Groove” – Roy Hargrove’s Love Letter to Black Music

Andy Thomas is a London based writer who has contributed regularly to Straight No Chaser, Wax Poetics, We Jazz, Red Bull Music Academy, and Bandcamp Daily. He has also written liner notes for Strut, Soul Jazz and Brownswood Recordings as well as storyboards for short films at RBMA. 

Header image: Bobby Hutcherson performs on stage at the Montreux Jazz Festival held in Montreux, Switzerland on July 05, 1973. Photo: David Warner Ellis/Redferns.