Steve Hobbs pays well-crafted homage on “Tribute to Bobby”


Veteran jazz musician Steve Hobbs pays homage to his mentor and friend, Bobby Hutcherson. The recording is Hobbs’ latest work with the ensemble he first recorded with in 2007. In a series of mostly original songs, Hobbs uses his 43 years of professional musicianship to craft a fitting tribute. “Tribute to Bobby” will be available Jan. 5, 2018.

About Steve Hobbs

Steve Hobbs is both a vibraphonist and marimba player. “Tribute to Bobby” is his third recording with the group he began recording with a decade ago. In addition to Hobbs, the group is comprised of Adam Kolker on soprano and tenor saxophones, Bill O’Connell on piano, Peter Washington on bass and John Riley on drums.

The mix of instrumentation is interesting. The marimba and vibraphone, plus the soprano and tenor saxophones seems eclectic to me, but maybe isn’t unusual in the world of jazz. Hobbs plays in contemporary styles. He also explores funk, Latin, calypso, and post bop. Among the 13 tracks, there is even a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Blowing in the Wind.”

Steve Hobbs: Sound of success

The recording Hobbs released with his ensemble in 2007 was called “Spring Cycle.” The CD landed at No. 3 on the Jazz Week chart. The group’s next recording, 2010’s “Vibes Straight Up,” reached No. 1 on the same chart. “Vibes Straight Up” remained on the Jazz Week chart for seven weeks.

With a stellar group of musicians and a history of critical and popular success, Hobbs is poised to garner more accolades with “Tribute to Bobby.”

Soundscape of homage: “Tribute to Bobby”

“The Craving Phenomenon”

As Hobbs explains in the liner notes, the title is a metaphor or innuendo of sorts. His humor and playfulness peeks through and he tells readers if they don’t know what the title refers to, they should consider themselves lucky. He wants listeners to crave music, and “nothing else.”

That certainly happens here. “The Craving Phenomenon” is a wild ride without being cacophonous or off-kilter. Hobbs’ marimba playing is light and flexible, like dance steps. A lot is going on, and it might take more than one listen to fully appreciate what each musician has to offer, but the bass is lively, and none of the instrumentation sounds like it is being drowned out by the others. The feel is classic jazz with marimba instead of guitar, for example.

“Thelonious Funk”

This is another original on the CD. It was created to honor Hutcherson because Thelonious Monk was one of his inspirations. As a result, the great piano runs that permeate the piece are an homage to Monk. The saxophone plays with a swinging flair and works well with what Hobbs and the piano are doing. The slower tempo allows audiences to appreciate the rhythm and groove of the piece.

“Blowing in the Wind”

A gentle soundscape made of what sounds like vibraphone, shimmering and softly clashing drums, and piano interpret Dylan’s classic. The vibraphone is a soothing instrument played at this tempo. This version hints at the original’s vocal chorus, but ultimately equals a creative take on a 1960s folk classic.

Even without Dylan’s original to guide listeners, a song that sounds like a soothing breeze with a title that mentions “wind” still makes sense. Hobbs’ version is a unique interpretation.

While Hobbs might have had a sad reason for making the “Tribute to Bobby” recording, the result is a masterful set of songs that makes the marimba and vibraphone stand out. None of the pieces overwhelm. Even the CD’s liner notes could teach audiences about jazz. Fun and education are rare in any music form. Hobbs brings both to jazz.






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