‘The New Standard’ was issued in 1996 and contained Herbie’s reimagining of tunes by Nirvana, Prince, Stevie Wonder, Sade, The Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, The Eagles, Peter Gabriel, & Steely Dan. While on paper this may look like a setup for background music for The Weather Channel, remember you’re dealing with here, and he assembled a band to realize this vision that included Michael Brecker-tenor/soprano sax, John Scofield-guitar, Dave Holland-bass, Jack DeJohnette-drums, and Don Alias-percussion. Have no fear that this isn’t a killer jazz record through and through—in most cases, the most recognizable hook of each song’s melody is only briefly referenced. Then it’s off to the races, as Herbie & Co lead us into an alternate universe where the jazz inclinations of Prince or Donald Fagen & Walter Becker are amplified, and jazz possibilities previously unexplored in the writing of Kurt Cobain or Don Henley are given a day in court. Great record. The first Japanese pressing of the CD has a bonus disc containing several live tracks that are also pretty fantastic. This 2019 pressing from Universal Korea was pressed at Pallas on 2 LPs and sounds terrific—recommended. Long may you run Herbie
Spiritual fusion excellence from a superb quintet. Jamaican percussionist Noel McGhie recruited Japanese trumpet player Itaru Oki, pairing him on the frontline with Brazilian alto saxophonist Jorge Joao. Pianist Georges Eduard Nouel and bassist Louis Xavier—both from Martinique—round out the quintet. Originally recorded in France back in 1975, this is a 2015 reissue on Superfly who did the one right—heavyweight vinyl & jacket, quality artwork, obi, and insert, and the pressing itself is flat, quiet and sounds fantastic. The music is soulful, groovy, electric jazz, with nods to electric period Miles Davis, and records like Herbie Hancock’s ‘Flood’ or Eddie Henderson’s ‘Sunburst’. Plenty of electricity for fusion appeal, plenty of modal/spiritual jazz vibes for more traditional palettes. The vinyl is limited and growing scarce, but the digital availability of Noel McGhie & Space Spies ‘Trapeze’ is pretty ubiquitous…worth hearing, and in my humble opinion, worth acquiring
Dateline: 10 Oct 1962. 24-year-old Freddie Hubbard had already put a jaw-dropping number of points on the board. He’d joined Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers in the wake of Lee Morgan’s departure, working the frontline on the bandstand alongside Wayne Shorter. Hubbard had already recorded with John Coltrane, Bill Evans, Ornette Coleman, Oliver Nelson, Jackie McLean, Dexter Gordon, and Duke Pearson. He’d led over a half dozen sessions himself, absorbing influences from his peers and mentors into both his writing and his playing. So he was well-primed to knock it out of the park at this session, and he did so with style. Leading a quintet that featured Herbie Hancock-piano, James Spaulding-alto sax/flute, Reggie Workman-bass, and Clifford Jarvis-drums, Hubbard navigates the hard-bop highway with finesse on the uptempo numbers and sensitivity on the ballads. ‘Hub-Tones’ contains a couple of Hubbard’s most excellent originals, including the title track, as well as the beautiful “Lament for Booker” (written for his close friend Booker Little). It’s hard to go wrong with any of Hubbard’s run of albums on Blue Note—they’re all high quality, but I’m partial to this one for three reasons:
1. ”Lament for Booker”—this tune just kills me.
2. I love the way this album sounds—the Notorious RVG was having a great day in the studio, and the sonic assassins at Music Matters must have sprinkled some extra sonic fairy dust on this one to make it leap from the speakers so strikingly.
3. The striking artwork never ceases to amaze. ‘Hub-Tones’ has one of my favorite—and most iconic—Reid Miles Blue Note LP jackets ever.
There’s a lot to love about this record—think I’ll spin it again
Post-bop bliss! The beautifully demented solo Herbie Hancock plays in “Dance of the Tripedal” alone makes this record worth owning. It’s fearless, captivating, moving, and each bar feels like a new tale of the unexpected. There are many thrilling moments just like it throughout Sam Rivers ‘Contours’, recorded in May 1965. Rivers (sax/flute) composed all four long tracks and led a stellar quintet. Joining Rivers and Hancock are Freddie Hubbard (trumpet), Ron Carter (bass), and Joe Chambers (drums). With song titles like “Mellifluous Cacophony,” it would be understandable that less adventurous ears might whistle past the graveyard on ’Contours.’ But you’d be missing out on one of the great mid-60s sessions…one that was increasingly difficult to come by on LP until reissued as part of the series last year. Now, to be honest, it’s still a challenging listen, and there there are a few moments with sharp edges. But those moments don’t show up often, and much of this music is truly MESMERIZING. It’s also a record with a very high replayability factor—the interplay can be so subtle and understated (or on the other end of the spectrum, so fast and furious) that it doesn’t register on the first spin. Or tenth. I dig this one more with each spin. Highest recommendation bop
‘Seven Steps to Heaven’ captures a compelling snapshot in time in the perpetual motion machine that was the artistry of Miles Davis. By early 1963, several of Miles’ frequent musical collaborators had moved on, and he was in search of a new team to bring his next set of innovations to life. First, Miles headed west, with two days of sessions in Hollywood leading a quartet backed by Victor Feldman-piano, Ron Carter-bass, and Frank Butler-drums. These ballads (1,3, and 5 on the LP) feature heart-wrenching solos by Miles, and Ron Carter’s bass playing on the album opener “Basin Street Blues” should be enshrined in a bass Hall of Fame somewhere. Miles returned to New York the following month, and those tracks—2, 4, and 6 on the LP, recorded on this day 14 May 1963—are more uptempo. The NYC band is a nascent Second Great Quintet: George Coleman-tenor sax, Ron Carter-bass, Herbie Hancock-piano, and Tony Williams-drums. Williams—only 17 at the time—had just been poached from Jackie McLean’s group, where he’d made quite the impression on McLean’s inside/outside ‘One Step Beyond.’ Williams’ playing was charged, pushing everyone to go the extra mile. Clearly, the chemical reaction between Williams, Carter, and Hancock was what Miles was looking for, and so began a year or so of live dates where this quintet would take the standards in the classic Miles live book to tempos and variations that pushed the boundaries further and further, culminating in Coleman’s departure and Wayne Shorter’s arrival in 1964. While it’s tempting to slot SSTH as a “middle child” between the great quintets, it stands proudly on its own merits. Three superb ballads, a killer title track, and the Victor Feldman original “Joshua” (which Davis would keep in his live book for almost a decade, though interestingly Feldman does not play on the track here) are more than enough to make this a classic
Kenny Burrell’s ‘Freedom’ is an under-discussed title in his discography. It combines two different sessions, one from March 1963 with Hank Jones-piano/organ, Seldon Powell-baritone sax/flute, Milt Hinton-bass, & Osie Johnson-drums; and one from Oct 1964 with Stanley Turrentine-tenor sax, Herbie Hancock-piano, Ben Tucker-bass, Bill English-drums, & Ray Barreto-congas. Allegedly, both sessions were difficult, with multiple takes required before achieving satisfactory results, and neither session producing enough material for a full album. So both sessions were shelved, and Burrell—who only did a couple of sessions as a sideman for Blue Note in between those recording dates, including the excellent ‘Hustlin’ LP with Turrentine—wouldn’t record for the label as a leader again until his return to Blue Note in the mid-80s for a couple of live records. ‘Freedom’ made its first appearance in Japan on LP in 1979, and in the US via Music Matters in 2011 (this pressing, 2 X LP @ 45RPM). So far as I know, there is no digital or CD version. Given the differences in session dates and players, the material covers quite a bit of ground, from funky soul-jazz to evening, hard-bop grooves that sound like they could have been outtakes from ‘Midnight Blue.’ A different take on “K Twist” does appear on ‘Midnight Blue,’ but I’ll leave it up to you as to which version you’d like to call the “outtake.” All of the material is strong, and both sessions were very well recorded by the Notorious RVG—I can see why Music Matters chose such relatively obscure sessions for release. The tracks may be individually scattered across compilations, box sets and playlists, though a quick scan of the digital services doesn’t look promising. Too bad…this is great stuff
Incendiary. Recorded on this day (7 April, 1970) in Columbia Studio B, this record moves even further into rock, soul, and funk excursions that began as far back as the waning days of the Second Great Quintet. Those initial sparks grew into a flame with ‘In A Silent Way,’ fire with ‘Bitches Brew,’ and full-on conflagration with ‘A Tribute to Jack Johnson.’ Miles, in particular, is playing at the top of his game—his solos are fierce, edgy, and take NO prisoners whatsoever. As a bandleader, his stated goal was to “put together the greatest rock ’n’ roll band you ever heard.” Mission accomplished: John McLaughlin & Sonny Sharrock (guitars), Herbie Hancock & Chick Corea (keyboards), Steve Grossman (saxophone), Bennie Maupin (bass clarinet), Dave Holland & Michael Henderson (bass), and Billy Cobham & Jack DeJohnette (drums). The two side-long tracks cover a lot of ground. Tension. Release. Tranquility. Fury. The lines between what was planned and what happened are difficult to ascertain, and ultimately I’m not sure it matters. Whether you see this is a rock record with jazz cred or a jazz record that decided to party with a rock band, it’s another example of bending the course of music to his will. And we’re all the better for it
Advanced hard bop, post-bop, and modal grooves come to life on ‘Virgo Vibes,’ recorded for Atlantic in early 1967 by an INCREDIBLE band led by vibes ace Roy Ayers. Side A finds Ayers leading Charles Tolliver-trumpet, Joe Henderson-tenor sax, Herbie Hancock-piano, Reggie Workman-bass, and Bruno Carr-drums, and is highlighted by Tolliver’s opening original “The Ringer.” Side B retains Tolliver on trumpet, joined by Harold Land-tenor sax, Jack Wilson-piano, Buster Williams-bass, and Donald Bailey-drums. The two tracks here—both Ayers originals—occasionally dip into post-bop waters, but the blues undercurrents ground them deeply enough to prevent anything from sounding too abstract or free. Ayers would find greater commercial success in the 70s in the jazz-funk area, laying the groundwork for the birth of acid jazz and neo-soul, but if you’re looking for those sounds, you won’t find them here—this is a classic jazz record through and through. Notes: Herbie Hancock is credited on this record as Ronnie Clark (likely for contractual reasons). Also, the CD reissue contains two bonus tracks, which I’ve not heard, performed by the Side B lineup
Before I knew better, I misinterpreted the cover art as a soundtrack, and the credits noting electric piano and flute gave me pause that the music was going to lean electric, funkified, proto-fusion; with Starsky & Hutch-Esque car chase vibes. Wrong, wrong, wrong. ‘The Prisoner’ is more like a larger-format transmogrification of Second Great Quintet meets Gil Evans. So to others who perhaps made a similar error in snap-judgment, or who’ve passed over this little-discussed title in the discography, I encourage you to open your ears to this great, under-recognized masterpiece. I’m pleased (and grateful) that @donwas @jazzsaraswati @ckurosman and the rest of the team at saw fit to reissue ‘The Prisoner’ as part of their series. I pre-ordered a copy the moment it was announced and given the state of things, I was surprised and delighted to see it on the doorstep today. ‘The Prisoner’ is a post-bop session from April 1969, showcasing Hancock’s playing and composing chops in the context of a formidable nonet: Joe Henderson (tenor sax/alto flute), Johnny Coles (flugelhorn), Garnett Brown (trombone), Tony Studd (bass trombone), Hubert Laws (flute), Jerome Richardson (bass clarinet), Buster Williams (bass), & Albert Heath (drums). The liner notes and song titles—along with subsequent interviews and articles—allow Mr. Hancock to establish his narrative: “The Prisoner” as a metaphor for the African-American experience, in what Hancock calls “a social statement in music”. The LP is also his dedication to the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It’s a gripping listen—cerebral, dense, and with an overall tone I’d describe as somewhat solemn, but it’s not gloomy or heavy-hearted despite the gravity of the subject matter. Hancock, Henderson, and Coles are the standout players, though this is truly a team effort. This pressing sounds HUGE with marvelous separation among the instruments, a deep low end, and the vinyl is perfectly quiet. A job well-done on a reissue that hopefully gives this overlooked record another day in court. Apologies for the crap photo…the LP jacket looks great but is rather reflective!
Recorded 21 Dec 1962, ‘Feelin’ the Spirit’ was the last of the “theme” records Green would explore that year. Having previously gone west and then south of the border in previous sessions, Green recruited pianist Herbie Hancock and the ace rhythm duo of bassist Butch Warren and drummer Billy Higgins to take us all to church. The material is a collection of familiar spirituals like “Joshua Fit de Battle ob Jericho” and “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen”, transmogrified into modern, soulful hard bop. The approach here ranges from reflective to celebratory, with the blues running deeply throughout. The interplay between Green and Hancock is marvelous, and while the tempos never really swing hard, the intensity is palpable. This is 1979 Japanese King pressing GXK 8117, stereo, a reissue of BST 84132. Preach