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Steve Hobbs: Vibes, Straight Up

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Born and bred in Raleigh, N.C., vibraphonist Steve Hobbs endeavors here to pay tribute to his Southern roots, as each of these nine compositions has some kind of connection to the South, however distant that connection might be.

It’s difficult for any vibraphonist-if only because there were and are so few-to not show the influence of Milt Jackson, Lionel Hampton, Mike Mainieri, Bobby Hutcherson and other past greats. Hobbs sounds closest to Jackson, particularly on ballads (how could you not?) and Mainieri on the swingers, often recalling Mainieri’s legendary work with the early 1960s Buddy Rich small group. That influence is particularly evident on the old stalwart “Cherokee,” which Mainieri could tear up. So does Hobbs.

The shadow of Milt Jackson manifests itself on “Stars Fell on Alabama,” and particularly on the funk version of “St. James Infirmary,” which often sounds eerily similar to the Jackson/Oscar Peterson collaboration on the legendary Very Tall sessions. Part of the reason is the very sound of the vibes, which are recorded superbly. Hobbs utilizes a slow vibrato à la Jackson. It’s impossible not to sound like Bags with that sound.

Ample credit must be given to the sympathetic and intuitive accompaniment of pianist Bill O’Connell (who channels Lennie Tristano on “Cherokee”), bassist Peter Washington and drummer John Riley, who really knows what a drummer should do in this context. This is a first-class project that spans eras, genres and generations.

Originally Published