Robert Hurst: Bob: A Palindrome

In the charged atmosphere that pervaded the immediate wake of 9/11, many a musician looked for comfort and meaning in the familiar. For bassist Robert Hurst, that meant surrounding himself with friendly faces at these October 2001 sessions in New York: Saxophonist Branford Marsalis, drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts and trumpeter/flugelhornist Marcus Belgrave all had previous history with Hurst, the latter going back to their teen years in Detroit. Bennie Maupin, offering flute, saxophones and bass clarinet, was another Detroiter; pianist Robert Glasper, yet to record his leader debut, was still new to Hurst’s circle (they would work in a trio setting the following year); Adam Rudolph was called in on percussion. Music was made, but the recording was then shelved while Hurst went on to find employment with a who’s who of jazz and pop headliners and as a scorer of films.

That a recording this vital should have remained unreleased this long borders on criminal neglect. It’s a treasure. It peaks midway through with the three-part Middle Passage Suite, progressing sequentially through a lead-in built upon Hurst’s foghorn-in-the-night arco and Rudolph’s pyrotechnics; a noirish, chamber-like second movement; and ultimately a convulsive denouement that finds Watts giving his crash cymbals a serious workout. Prior to that, there’s “Picked From Nick,” wherein Glasper’s Rhodes and the Belgrave/Maupin/Marsalis battery suggests the lighter side of early fusion. Both “Big Queen” and “Little Queen,” though seemingly unrelated thematically, take their time to spread out. By the time “Jamming-a.k.a. Ichabad” arrives, we’re in Miles funk-era territory. It’s all rather sumptuous and thoroughly engrossing, but with this crew how could it be anything but?