The vibraphones often create the über-cool “lounge” sound at cocktail parties but don’t pigeonhole the instrument as a gimmicky mood inducer. Legends like Lionel Hampton, Milt Jackson, Cal Tjader and Bobby Hutcherson inhabit the pantheon of the instrument’s alltime heroes. Not surprisingly, myriad players inspired by those greats are doing their best to join that impressive list. Five new releases featuring three vets, a legend and a newcomer prove that the list might begin to grow soon.
Jay Hoggard continues his prolific streak as a leader with Soular Power. With support from James Weidman(piano/organ), Belden Bullock (bass) and Yoron Israel (drums), the session features 11 of his own compositions and one standard (“On a Clear Day”). That classic Lane-Lerner tune stands out as one of the most enjoyable numbers, the interplay between the leader and Weidman recalling the collaboration of Bobby Hutcherson and Larry Young on the Grant Green album Street of Dreams.
Benny Golson protégé Joe Baione delivers his second album as a leader with Oh Yeah!, a happy, up-tempo set perfect for the summer jazz season. Baione leads an inspired combo featuring Toru Dodo (piano), Jorge Castro(tenor sax), Andrae Murchison (trombone) Corcoran Holt (bass) and drummer Jerome Jennings. They run through three standards: a funky arrangement of “All Blues,” a very low-key “Prelude to a Kiss” and a tribute to one of the instrument’s pioneers, Milt Jackson’s “Bag’s Groove”. The leader’s penchant for Latin and Caribbean rhythms surfaces on the songs “‘J’ Bossa” (which he arranged with his clarinetist father) and “Coconut Island”. The latter sees Baione switch to the marimba, resulting in a tropical experience highly reminiscent of “St. Thomas”.
The most challenging of the five new releases is vibraphonist Behn Gillece‘s Full View, co-led with tenor saxophonist Ken Fowser. Accompanied by David Hazeltine (piano), Adam Cote (bass) and Paul Francis (drums), these newcomers exude a chemistry reminiscent of Dexter Gordon and Hutcherson on Gettin’ Around. Gordon is no doubt an influence on Fowser’s round, warm tone that mirrors that of the “long tall” legend. Gillece also pays homage with his brisk, slightly modal “The Hutch”. The complex, polyrhythmic number includes focused soloing from the whole team.
At one point, Mark Sherman aspired to be a drummer. Known as a disciple of Elvin Jones, he was drawn to the vibes and the instrument soon gained a new virtuoso worthy of Hampton, Hutcherson and Jackson. Recorded in Basel, Switzerland, Sherman’s double live album Live @ The Bird’s Eye supplies nearly two hours of great straight-ahead jazz, mixing Sherman originals with a few standards. The group isn’t afraid to improvise; many of the tunes go beyond ten minutes, but you’re guaranteed not to mind. The leader gets top-grade support fromAllen Farnham (piano), Dean Johnson (bass) and Tim Horner (drums).
After he’d established himself in the late ’60s as one of the top vibraphonists in exploratory soul jazz and right before he recorded one of the all-time greatest “blaxploitation” soundtracks with Coffy in 1973, Roy Ayers made a major impression in 1971 with Ubiquity. Here Ayers commands a larger ensemble than what had become his typical quartet and lays down a combination of funky instrumentals and more commercially-bent vocal numbers. Along with an airy interpretation of “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head,” highlights include a handful of tracks where Ayers employs a fuzz box; normally used as a guitar accessory, it really comes in handy on the appropriately titled scorcher “The Fuzz”. As all five of these albums clearly illustrate, it’s a good time to be a fan of the vibes.