A YEAR OF GOOD VIBES — PART 1

I was asked to recommend some good vibes albums. I swallowed the bait, though it has taken a while to haul in the net. So here is a year’s worth of music featuring that unusual member of the percussion family, the vibraphone. 

For those unfamiliar with the instrument that Australian jazz legend John Sangster called his ‘steam table’, it consists of a series of tuned metal bars (similar to a toy xylophone, but bigger) under which hang resonating tubes. Add in a sustain pedal (just like a piano) and you have a sound that hangs in the air for several seconds. There is also a valve that produces vibrato (hence the name), augmenting the bell like tones. Vibes are played with padded mallets, either one or two pairs.

Although best known as a jazz instrument, many ‘classical’ composers—from Benjamin Britten to Steve Reich—have written pieces featuring the vibraphone. 

Off we go, then.

*

JANUARY

Lionel Hampton / Stan GetzHamp and Getz  (1955)

The veteran swing era band leader joined up with “cool” young tenor player Stan Getz for a sprightly and companionable record. This small group jumps, in no small part thanks to the rhythm section of Shelly Manne on drums, Leroy Vinegar on bass and pianist Lou Levy. There is some lovely playing on the ballads, but for mine the standout is the opening track, “Cherokee”, which rockets along flashing the solo spotlight between Hamp, Getz and pianist Levy. Makes you dance and smile.

FEBRUARY

Modern Jazz QuartetPyramid  (1960)

An MJQ favourite from their enormous catalogue. The quartet made elegant modern jazz, featuring vibes legend Milt Jackson and pianist/composer John Lewis. Many of Lewis’s compositions became standards, and there are two classics here: the opening tune “Vendome” and “Django”. I love the title track, a slow blues by legendary bass player Ray Brown and also the lovely version of guitarist Jim Hall’s “Romaine”. Throw in a couple of standards and you have a very satisfying album. A fine intro to the MJQ’s elegant chamber jazz and the vibraphone artistry of Milt Jackson.

MARCH

Milt Jackson / John ColtraneBags and Trane (1961)

The MJQ were were hugely popular in the 1950s, a regard that travelled with them into the new decade.  This pairing with John Coltrane is not as odd as it might seem; ‘Trane was versatile and Milt one of the most highly regarded soloists in jazz. They dance beautifully together. I particularly like the jumping rhythms and lightning interplay on Dizzy Gillespie’s “Be-Bop” (propelled by marvellous bass playing from Paul Chambers) while for those who enjoy ballads, the pensive “The Night We Called It A Day” is great too. 

The 1988 CD release has three ‘bonus’ tracks (including Jackson’s marvellously loping “Blues Legacy”), adding a generous 20 minutes to the album’s running time. 

APRIL

Cal TjaderSeveral Shades Of Jade (1963) / Breeze From The East (1964)

One of the challenges of navigating jazz is the plethora of sub-genres and styles. Cal Tjader was a West Coast musician who became synonymous with Latin jazz. Although Trader tends to sit at the lounge/easy listening end of the spectrum, his music is charming and very accessible. Pictured is a great value two-fer CD that will delight fans of accessible, easy listening cocktail jazz. And Cal plays vibes very well indeed.

MAY

Eric DolphyOut To Lunch (1964)

The vibes player here is Bobby Hutcherson (see next album) who joins in the fireworks of this avant-garde treat from leader Eric Dolphy. Dolphy wrote the five pieces, which are certainly ‘out there’ in terms of adventurous, often testing jazz. Bobby Hutcherson’s vibes are a vital part of the sound, especially in the absence of a piano; try the upbeat psychotic noir detective “Gazzelloni” for a taste. But everyone is brilliant here: nineteen-year-old drummer Tony Williams, Richard Davis on bass and Dolphy playing sax, flue and bass clarinet. Amongst the fiery dissonance and acrobatic harmonic leaps are moments of magic, meaning that while not an ideal jazz entry point, this album is famous for good reason.

JUNE

Bobby HutchersonHappenings (1966)

Bobby Hutcherson was enormously influential in pushing vibes beyond chiming pleasantries (Out To Lunch is the incontrovertible evidence). This album features Herbie Hancock and a great rhythm section comprising Bob Cranshaw on bass and Joe Chambers on drums. Opening piece “Aquarian Moon” is suitably 1967, with lots of variety and a whiff of incense, while it’s always great hearing Hancock’s classic “Maiden Voyage”. By the end the hippy vibe has been banished with the experimental spookiness of “The Omen”. Really great album.

*

In the part two we’ll get a bit funky, and hear from the most significant living vibist.

29 comments

  1. I know my endorsement of Bobby Hutcherson won’t increase listening around the globe, but isn’t he something?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. He sure is. And your endorsement should. 🙂

      Like

  2. pinklightsabre · · Reply

    The vibes ain’t nothing but the vibes.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good or bad, it’s just in the meaning we make.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. pinklightsabre · · Reply

        Hit it with that padded mallet (or mullet)

        Liked by 1 person

  3. In my son’s high school band, this instrument was simply called ‘the bells’. I’m happy to learn it has a real name (which the teacher never used).

    Like

    1. Happy to be of service, Jeff! (I’m trying not to get all huffy about a music teacher not calling an instrument by its correct hame 😅)

      Liked by 1 person

      1. He was a serious a-hole. Eli quit drums because he couldn’t stand him.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Hm. That’s sad. Teaching is such a worthwhile profession, I find it upsetting when it falls a long way short.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. He’s currently suspended and under investigation for inappropriate behavior with a student. Can you tell I really don’t like the guy?

            Liked by 1 person

            1. There’s a book that needs to be thrown.

              Liked by 1 person

  4. “Out To Lunch!” is enormous. Roar and chirp in another dimension.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Beautiful precis, HF.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I just looked at these on the PC for a change (instead of the ‘phone). They look great. I’m particularly taken by the cover of Several Shades Of Jade (1963) / Breeze From The East (1964).
    Part two will be of great interest as I know all but the two with the Eastern vibe in this post.

    PS I’m hoping the Lockdown is messin’ with ya too much.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Lovely, DD. Some extra data on the artwork used for “Breeze from the east”:

      “The Japanese wave painting Under The Great Wave off Kanagawa has been shaking up the art world for two centuries… It was created by Hokusai Katsushika, one of the greatest Japanese painters and printmakers of the 19th century, as a part of his series titled 36 famous views of Mount Fuji, a sacred mountain in Japan. The print was initially created by Hokusai around 1830, but the publishing date is 1832. It is created as a woodblock print, using the traditional Japanese ukiyo-e technique.” [From Widewalls website]

      Interestingly, Tjader did not like the finished album at all. His and producer Creed Talyor’s visions did not coincide.

      I’d delighted you are feeling some (hopefully pleasurable) anticipation re Part 2. We are, as I’m certain you detected, moving forwards in time. But not too far.

      Like

  6. Whoa…. There’s a not in not messing with you too much!

    And $70+ for Cal…..too much

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Right the first time, mate. 🤣

      I reckon keep an eye out at Dixon’s for Cal.

      Like

  7. Dang, makes you dance and sing? Give me some Lionel! Seriously, to me he was always the embodiment of the vibraphone. Love those Goodman years of his. – Marty

    Like

  8. Bobby H is the only vibes player I could name off hand.

    Enjoyed this one Bruce.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Perhaps another one who appears next post, too?
      Thanks, Joe. Can I recommend the previous post as well?

      Liked by 1 person

        1. I was talking to your narcissistic part!

          Liked by 1 person

  9. I only have one of these (Tjader) but I wants the rest, the precious!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dare I say it, but Part 2 is even more tasty!

      Like

  10. So much common ground here Bruce. I didnt mention on your “color” theme that Im pretty sure I have a MJQ colored vinyl.
    Lets give an honorable mention to Ruth Underwood for playing great vibes and putting up with FZ.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ruth Underwood is a great mallet player, that’s for sure. Nice get.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. “Mallet player”. I dig the lingo.

        Liked by 1 person

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