Bobby Hutcherson, Joe Chambers

With Bobby Hutcherson having passed away at age 75, jazz fans everywhere might be spinning Eric Dolphy’s Out to Lunch or turning toward Hutcherson’s 2014 Blue Note swan song, Enjoy the View. Me, I’m remembering his first Blue Note album and, coincidentally, the first Hutcherson album I ever bought: 1965’s Dialogue.

This was early in my explorations of the freer side of jazz, when I was hesitantly dipping my toe in Cecil Taylor waters. Hutcherson seemed like an alternative that was safer but still deep enough, but Dialogue‘s title track, written by Joe Chambers, turned out to be a full-on plunge into highly improvised jazz. It’s composed, but in a way that allows free association among the players, with no particular lead instrument, something that was new to me.

(Actually, there is a notable lead-instrument moment. Around 7:14, bassist Richard Davis moves from avant-garde twanging into a robust little duet with Andrew Hill’s ocean-waves piano behind him. Very nice.)

While we’re at it, though, let’s pay some respects to a living musician as well: Chambers, who was a consistent presence on Hutcherson’s late-’60s Blue Note records.

As a composer, Chambers was quite interested in this kind of openness and freedom, and he got to display his ideas on Hutcherson’s next album, Components. Every song on Side 2 is a Chambers composition, starting with “Movement,” which is “like a six-part theme constantly in motion, held together by a pulse,” as Chambers told liner-notist Nat Hentoff.

“Air” is the most adventurous of the pieces, almost entirely improvised. And “Juba Dance” has a catchy, 22-bar theme but also slides into a long stretch of spare, untethered improv.

Chambers would go on to release albums such as New World (Finite, 1976; rereleased by Porter, 2008), a mostly fusion-based date that also includes prog-like experimentalism (“Chung Dynasty”) and a pretty Wayne Shorter tune (“Rio”).

chambers-landscapesNot only is Chambers still with us, but he’s even released a new album: Landscapes, on the Savant label. It’s a faux-quartet date, with Chambers overdubbing drums and vibraphone, supported by Rick Germanson (piano) and Ira Coleman (bass). The overdubbing is eye-opening on tracks like “Samba de Maracatu,” with its rapidly tumbling drums and the tight unison of the piano/vibes lead. Neither part sounds like an easy after-the-fact addition.

Landscapes might not be particularly avant-garde, but who said it had to be? It’s a fine album and a nice display of Chambers’ skills, and it’s great that he’s still swinging at age 74.

Yes, I just morphed a Hutcherson obit into a Chambers celebration. Living musicians matter. We expend so much energy, rightfully so, on the jazz masters who are departing this world one by one, marking the passing of a great era. But the cats who are still around deserve their due, too. I think Bobby would understand.