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Armand Hutton

Flip Intro (2022)

5.0

September 30, 2022

Tuning / Blend 5.0
Energy / Intensity 5.0
Innovation / Creativity 5.0
Soloists 5.0
Sound / Production 4.3
Repeat Listenability 3.7
Tracks
1 Reading Rainbow 5.0
2 Roots 3.7
3 Yo Home to Bel-Air 4.7
4 As Days Go By 5.0
5 I’ll Be There For You 5.0
6 A Medley of Black Television Theme Songs 4.7

Recorded 2018 – 2022
Total time: 25:39, 6 songs


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 5
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 Reading Rainbow 5
2 Roots 5
3 Yo Home to Bel-Air 5
4 As Days Go By 5
5 I’ll Be There For You 5
6 A Medley of Black Television Theme Songs 5

You either dig Flip Intro's futuristic, impressionistic, double-dense, rifftastic sound, or you don't. Source material is just the dusty launch pad underneath Armand Hutton's shiny arranging spaceship. Jazz-tronaughts only beyond this point.

Bored of traditional song structures? Tired of stacked 3rds and easily named chord progressions? Are original song's melodies just suggestions? Is there never enough Naturally 7/Take 6-style harmony? Is in-your-face breathy, sparkly, hyper-compressed density just delicious sonic candy? If you said yes, then Flip Intro, Armand Hutton's latest release, is just the stunning headscratcher for you. Harmonically imaginative and impeccably sung, both by Hutton and a legion of a cappella royalty (including members of Take 6), the result is impressive and dizzying.

I have often pointed listeners to an album's song titles as a guide to predicting the listener's reaction to a recording. And while I urge you to look at them, that doesn't quite work here. How you might feel about any of the songs that Hutton has chosen to arrange is unlikely to impact your reaction to his finished product — except perhaps if you thought the originals had great potential, but you also wished nearly every element of them had been different.

For good or ill, the production/mastering makes almost everything feel artificial, bionic even. It's as if each line were composed of samples of incredibly talented singers played on a keyboard. Even when the performance is obviously a specifically sung part of a given track, and even when sung with dynamics and feeling, there's a quality to its presentation that feels placed rather than captured. Hutton's sonic world is perpetually fascinating; but it's the opposite of intimate, raw, natural, and exposed. The layers, the processing, the perfectly aligned hard cuts on entrances and exits, the density of sound and harmony, tone and breath, the unpredictability of the musical turns — they all elevate cerebral enjoyment and observation over visceral emotional connection.

Listeners of all stripes will generously offer raised eyebrows, head tilts, nods, and smiles. But will Flip Intro truly touch listeners' hearts? Unexpectedly, the album as a whole might just achieve what the songs do not. Go look at the track list again. Don't think about the songs; think about their social context. Think about what those songs represent. If you deeply connect with the experience of growing up a person of color in the U.S. and watching over the past generations, as an increasing number of TV shows more prominantly and positively featured persons of color; if breaking through the nearly all-white TV experience carries with it a relieved release and even a sense of victory and hope after struggle; then Flip Intro will move you. To be seen and heard, even through TV's cartoonish, formulaic lens, is still an emotional experience for those of us who have felt our identities to be invisible, persecuted, or casually white-washed by the endless echo of the dominant culture. A collection like this creates its own very diffferent echo.

Songs today often seem algorhythmic, born of search terms and preexisting playlists, carefully crafted to please computers. Will we work out to them? Will we study to them? Will we dance to them at the exact same BPM as the other "danceable" songs? Will we sing along to the chorus? Such utilitarian calls go pleasantly unanswered on Flip Intro. Some albums are worth owning, whether or not you immediately like and identify with the sound. Hutton's Flip Intro is such an album. Listen, and let it challenge you to listen differently.


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 5
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 Reading Rainbow 5
2 Roots 4
3 Yo Home to Bel-Air 5
4 As Days Go By 5
5 I’ll Be There For You 5
6 A Medley of Black Television Theme Songs 5

Were you to only casually peruse the track listing of Armand Hutton's Flip Intro, you might be excused for assuming it was a kitschy, schticky bauble of an a cappella album, electing to confine itself almost exclusively to earworm TV theme songs of the '80s, '90s, and early aughts.

You'd be wrong.

I mean yes, nearly all of the repertoire covered here does fall pretty neatly into the above-mentioned category. But to call this bold, overflowingly creative, intriguing, and mostly delightful effort "schticky" would be a disservice of the highest (or perhaps lowest) order.

Arguably as much as (or even more than) the singing itself, Hutton deserves huge plaudits simply for assembling such a wonderfully eclectic and international group of phenomenal performers to showcase throughout the album. One can only hope that getting a brief taste here will encourage listeners to dive deeper into the work of Dutch singer-songwriter Koosje, or South African vocal group Just 6, or virtuosa vocal percussionist Butterscotch, or contemporary gospel artist Y'Anna Crawley, or a host of others featured.

And then there's the music.

To say that some of the interpretations are adventurous might be an understatement, but they are always intriguing and challenging, and often thrilling. In truth, the operatic take on the Reading Rainbow theme wore a bit thin on me in its repetition, and the juxtaposition of a spoken word intro paraphrasing lyrics from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air over an arrangement of a Quincy Jones theme from Roots was more interesting to me for what it might be trying to say sociologically than what it was offering musically. But once the album hits Yo Home to Bel-Air, it was off to the races, and aficionados of funk and R&B-infused vocal jazz — myself among them — will almost certainly be enthralled with the remaining selections.

For someone with more "conventional" tastes, I still encourage you to take in the whole album, as this is a brilliant artist, singer, arranger, and vocal producer working at the top of his game — and that doesn't come along every day. You will hopefully be able to appreciate the work whether or not it ends up permanently broadening your musical horizons. But just in case, maybe as a nod to the masses, Hutton — with a helping hand from renowned veteran arranger Tom Anderson — gives you the medley you never knew you needed but are sure to love and sing along to (at least if you've spent some time watching TV sitcoms centered on black characters over the last thirty years or so). Think of it as a yummy "guilty pleasure" dessert after a six-course tasting menu of jazzy haute cuisine.

I'll admit that the one question that nagged at me was "why?" That is, to assemble such a remarkable collection of talent and to apply it so specifically to some of the fluffiest imaginable material initially felt (to me) like a missed opportunity. But at the end of the day, that's not really any of my business. And whatever his reasons, Hutton's product is extraordinary, so I'm certainly not complaining. I may, however, cling to the word "intro" in his album title, with the fervent hope that this is but the first of more such initiatives to come.


TeKay
5
Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 5
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 3
Tracks
1 Reading Rainbow 5
2 Roots 2
3 Yo Home to Bel-Air 4
4 As Days Go By 5
5 I’ll Be There For You 5
6 A Medley of Black Television Theme Songs 4

First, I have to say: go watch the videos for Flip Intro on YouTube. I'm not usually an advocate for doing so, but there is missing element to this artistic package if you don't experience it visually as well.

Armand "Hops" Hutton's studio project Flip Intro is for everyone, but not for everyone. As most solo endeavors are, this album is definitely a self-indulgent effort, but one that is so indulgent that it makes the ooey-gooey goodness of the music all the more delectable. The album is also unapologetically Black in myriad ways. From most of the performers singing on the album; to the subject matter that is mined within an inch of itself; to the vocal stylings and approachs; and on the songs, Hutton has his Oakwood College gospel credentials and vocal jazz sensibilities on full display. If you want a "funner" version of Take 6 or Naturally 7, then look no further than the Armand Hutton 8 (not really a group, but had to keep on trend); you can hear the influence and remnants of those groups and his alma mater permeate these tracks in sound and execution.

The adjectives most applicable to this recording are as follows: atmospheric, expansive, intricate, soaring, catchy, and pretty darn impeccable. Not to say that some of the music is without fault — a lot of it is overly cheesy (here's looking at you, Reading Rainbow) — but all of it is also imaginative. Hutton is as incredible an arranger as he is a bassist, and both of those talents are on full display on Flip Intro. He's also somewhat adept as a comedic writer, as the parody-esque nature of some of his interpretations is downright hilarious.

Speaking of the Rainbow, I suspect that #tiktok was inspirational in having this track recorded. After all of the discussion around the original sound being used on the social media app, Hutton's take seems tailor-made for use by content creators. It is the juxtaposition of the four disparate parts that makes this particular opener so intriguing. We have high art in the leads, with the two operatic singers Funke Lagose of American Idol fame and Met performer Brandie Inez Sutton layered over Hutton's juicy bass and spatial backing chords. This treat is then paired with Butterscotch's rhythmic funk drums and a children's choir chorus. You can't make this stuff up, and yet he did — and it works with aplomb.

I do think it's interesting that TV theme songs are the subject matter of his arranging skills on this album. I wish there was information listed that spoke to why Hops wanted to focus on these songs in this genre of music in particular. Some of the reimaginings work better than others. Bel-Air gets lost after a while from too much of the jazzy airiness and linear structure of the track. With passive listening, I couldn't tell you where one verse ended and the next started. I don't think that the Roots lead helps in the matter at all; it is a nonentity for me, as this track comes across as square and obtuse as a standalone.

As Days Go By is the most solid track on the album; it works as a standalone song so that if you didn't know that it was the Family Matters theme song, you'd just think of it as a great pop R&B tune. And that's great. Hutton has created a transcendent piece of art. But by far, I'll Be There For You is the most engaging and entrancing piece. Koosje is an incredible find. If you don't know her music, please run out right now and pick you up some. The opening could be a lot stronger because it doesn't really gel with the familiar "I'll be there..." refrain. They sound like two different songs. But since hers is the primary part, it bumps the song up to full marks.

Depending on your age (it's definitely a Millenial album) you'll enjoy picking out the different songs and shows included in the closing medley. The brothers Kibble make an appearance, as well as some of the most testerone-laden bass vocal leads that rumble down in your toes.

Listen to Flip Intro when you want a spurt of nostalgia that will enlighten your day.

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Ordering Information

Flip Intro is available on these streaming services. Videos for all songs are also available on YouTube.

  • iTunes
  • Amazon.com
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