In his deeply detailed liner notes to an excellent ensemble album that embodies the enduring sonic magic of the marimba and vibes, Steve Hobbs – one of the modern masters of the instrument – recalls the night he, then a student at Berklee - saw legendary vibes players Bobby Hutcherson and Mike Mainieri at Paul’s Mall in Boston. He had been playing both drums and vibes but, to the jazz world’s benefit, switched to mallets full time.
Though fashioned as a lively, stylistically diverse tribute to the enduring musical spirit of Hutcherson, Hobbs actually began writing and arranging this engaging mix of originals and refreshing twists on classics (“Besame Mucho,” “Blowin’ In the Wind,” “Where or When”) in the year before Hutcherson passed away in August 2016. At 13 tracks, it’s a generous and multi-faceted venture for a vibes great whose legacy may one day be on par with his hero. In 1998, Hobbs was listed in the BMG All Music Guide to Jazz as one of the ten most influential vibists in the world during the 1980s and 1990s.
Twenty years on, he’s still vibing up a storm, recording his third album with a dynamic ensemble featuring saxophonist Adam Kolker, pianist Bill O’Connor, bassist Peter Washington and drummer John Riley. Beyond the bright, swinging jazz foundations, Hobbs and his crew venture handsomely into vocal gospel territory (the uplifting “The Road To Happy Destiny,” featuring a church-y choir and Marvin Thorne’s bluesy scat) and Latin jazz (“Let’s Go to Abaco!”).