The late 1970s and early 1980s were a problematic time for jazz recordings, particularly those released on the so-called major labels. The Fusion steamroller was still flattening the recording careers of scores of mainstream musicians, with the big boys like Columbia, Polydor, Warner Bros., and RCA Victor seemingly always on the prowl for the next Return to Forever, Mahavishnu Orchestra, or Weather Report. Disco had reared its over-coifed head, and more than a few creative players hauled out the polyester and gold chains to pay the rent. Even the gritty and sour-sweet Jackie McLean momentarily tumbled into the chasm with 1979’s ill-advised Monuments.
Vibraphone and marimba player Bobby Hutcherson had cut his swan song for the floundering Blue Note Records with 1977’s Knucklebean. He moved on to Columbia with the syrupy Highway One (featuring large string and horn sections) in 1978, and the even blander Conception: The Gift of Love (with a 13-piece horn section) in 1979. His third album, Un Poco Loco - originally Columbia 36402 - released in 1980, was a notch or two more inspired than the preceding pair, but pretty insipid compared to the classic Blue Notes from the 1960s.
Part of the difficulty lies in the choice of instrumentation and the quality of the engineering. The combination of vibes or marimba with electric piano, electric guitar, and electric bass is a tad too tinkly for comfort. There’s precious little bottom in the recorded sound, and Domanico’s bass - particularly the electric - has little presence; even when he switches to the stand-up there’s no air, no wood, no resonance in the reproduction. Perhaps the dreaded direct-feed is to blame. Engineers seemed to have no clue how to correctly record the rich overtones of strings during this period. Hutcherson’s instruments fare a little better, but there’s none of the richly detailed ring and hanging-in-air timbre so commonplace on the Blue Notes. Abercrombie tends to concentrate most of his attention on the treble range of the guitars as well, and the engineer emasculates Erskine’s kick and toms, leaving a wash of ill-defined snare and cymbals. Things pick up considerably when Cables switches to the acoustic piano, but it’s a case of too little, too late. The session cries out for instrumentation with real heft, or at least an engineer who could translate bass and drums to recording tape with the bite and balls of Rudy Van Gelder.
Highlights include the limber Bud Powell title cut, with Cables on acoustic and Hutcherson taking a tasty marimba solo, Bobby’s catchy "I Wanna Stand Over There" - which is reminiscent of "500 Miles High" - with a fluid Cables acoustic solo and relatively adventurous Hutcherson on vibes, and a brief but gutsy Abercrombie acoustic solo - replete with guttural vocal exclamations - on Jack DeJohnette’s lovely "Silver Hollow." Much of the rest falls flat.
Luckily, Hutcherson didn’t fall headfirst into the commercial abyss like his friend and frequent collaborator Freddie Hubbard, whose career never fully recovered from the string of disco-jazz monstrosities he recorded during this same era for Columbia and Fantasy. By all means, pick this up before it goes out of print again if you’re a Hutcherson completist. But if you don’t have the vibraphonist’s 1960s Blue Notes, Cirrus and View from the Inside from the 1970s, the landmark sideman sessions with Jackie McLean, Freddie Hubbard, Dexter Gordon, Grant Green, Joe Henderson, Duke Pearson, Lee Morgan, Sam Rivers, Eric Dolphy, Grachan Moncur III, Archie Shepp, and McCoy Tyner, and at least some of the latter day Timeless, Contemporary, Evidence, Landmark or Verve sessions, I’d suggest passing.