herbiehancock

Herbie Hancock ‘The Prisoner’

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!

Grant Green ‘Feelin’ the Spirit’

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

Wayne Shorter ‘Speak No Evil’

The entirety of Wayne Shorter’s legendary @bluenoterecords run is some of the greatest jazz ever recorded. ‘Speak No Evil’ has a special magic: every time I play it I enjoy it a bit more. I don’t know that there’s a bigger or better endorsement of an album. It’s everything one could ask for: thrilling compositions that are memorable, engaging and full of surprises; a band that plays with gravitas, swing and telepathy; and a recording that captures the energy, power and nuances of the session. If this were the first jazz record you ever heard, you’d have picked a fantastic entry point. Veteran jazz listeners return to it again and again for good reason. On this Christmas Eve 1964 session, Wayne brought along two of his @milesdavis Second Great Quintet bandmates: Herbie Hancock (piano) and Ron Carter (bass). By this point, they had enough stage and studio experiences with @wayne.shorter to knock it out of the park. Add firebrand trumpeter Freddie Hubbard and drum powerhouse Elvin Jones and it’s no wonder that ‘Speak No Evil’ rises above great. The secret sauce here is bassist Ron Carter, whose creativity and unwavering sense of groove liberates both Hancock and Jones to make the most of Shorter’s compositions. Carter’s center-of-gravity was clear to engineer Rudy Van Gelder, who places Carter prominently in the mix. As a result, his playing really stands out, especially on this Music Matters 33 pressing. This record should loom large in every jazz collection. Happy New Year everyone

Donald Byrd ‘Free Form’

A tale of two sides, with Byrd mostly in the composer’s chair across both. Side A is classic Byrd in hard bop mode, leading a quartet that includes his mentee Herbie Hancock on piano and a young Wayne Shorter on tenor sax. Butch Warren (bass) and Billy Higgins (drums) anchor the proceedings which begins with ‘Pentacostal Feelin’, gospel-influenced rug-cutter, then moves into a mellower groove with the lovely “Night Flower”, followed by the groovy mid-tempo “Nai Nai” which features a KILLER Wayne Shorter solo. Side B is where things get even more interesting as some of the hard bop goes sideways, modal playing becomes a thing and the resulting swing is just EXPLOSIVE. “French Spice” manages to pique your curiosity and rouse your libido at the same time. It’s definitely about foreplay and/or should be played during. Then there’s the title track which gets caught in several post bop riptides, manages to break free momentarily, only to get pulled out even further. It’s pretty freakin’ great. The song really takes its time to develop, morph, evolve and explore the edges. Wildly enjoyable. Byrd made a lot of strong-to-great records in the 50s/60s, all of which have some facet to recommend but for me this one stands a cut or two above the others. Highly recommended. Recorded on this day 11 Dec, 1961 but held for release until 1966. This is one of the few original first pressings in my collection—BLP 4118, mono

Miles Davis “Fall” from ‘Nefertiti’

The few remaining leaves are now falling with the first snow of the year. The tranquility of their shared journey downwards is captured perfectly by “Fall,” one of my Top Ten jazz tracks of all time. There’s a certain sadness to it, and while I can’t speak to the minds of the Second Great Quintet, it seems to me that it’s not just about a season. This Wayne Shorter composition was recorded two days after the death of @johncoltrane, and there’s an underlying melancholy that permeates not only the tone but the execution. “Fall” is generally beautiful and serene, the perfect soundtrack to the outside vibe. That said, beneath the surface, there’s an underlying sense of disquiet. It’s not enough to pierce the veil of calm, and if anything, the counterpoint provides a marvelous tension to the piece. By far my favorite moment comes at 2:18 when @herbiehancock begins a captivating piano solo when suddenly at 2:43—in classic Second Great Quintet form—he and Tony Williams break the space-time continuum with a mind-meld that just knocks me flat every time…it’s one of my favorite moments in jazz, an answer to the question “what’s so great about @milesdavis Second Great Quintet?” Well, there are many answers to that question, but right here, right now, it’s “Fall

Lee Morgan ‘The Procrastinator’

Seductive. If it’s not in your library, it should be. Tied with ’Search For the New Land’ as my favorite Lee Morgan album, this session has star power galore: Lee Morgan (trumpet), Wayne Shorter (tenor sax), Bobby Hutcherson (vibes), Herbie Hancock (piano), Ron Carter (bass) and Billy Higgins (drums). Carter, Hancock & Shorter were recording ’Nefertiti’ with @milesdavis when Morgan “borrowed” them for this session, so the freebop sensibility of the Second Great Quintet blends seamlessly with Morgan’s advanced hard bop proclivities. Add a generous dose of Hutcherson’s shimmering, percussive vibes and the result is an immersive atmosphere that draws you in from the opening notes of the title track to the final notes of “Soft Touch”. In between, you’ll find a variety of excellence, from the verbosity of “Start Stop” (that Morgan solo is 🔥🔥🔥) to the album highlight “Dear Sir”, a ballad that quests with the spirit of the Second Great Quintet. This album has a long, convoluted history which I’ve detailed in the comments, but for the time being digital ubiquity is at hand, so head over to your favorite streaming platform and immerse yourself in one of Lee Morgan’s finest records. This is a tremendous session @icalledhimmorgan @herbiehancock @wayne.shorter @roncarterbass @musicmattersjazz

Wayne Shorter ‘The All Seeing Eye’

Without question the boldest album Shorter had made in the 18 months since leading his first album for Blue Note in April 1964. His tenure @bluenoterecords had started years before, participating in legendary sessions with Donald Byrd (‘Free Form’), Lee Morgan (’Search For The New Land’), Freddie Hubbard (‘Ready For Freddie’) and several Jazz Messenger sets with Art Blakey. His skills and reputation as both player and composer grew rapidly during that time, kicking into overdrive as he grew into his leadership role which occurred only months before assuming the role of tenor sax man and compositional linchpin in @milesdavis Second Great Quintet. So by Fall 1965 having led a number of now-classic albums like ’Speak No Evil’, ‘Juju’, ’Night Dreamer’ and ‘Et Cetera’, his aspirations for ‘The All Seeing Eye’ were bigger, his compositions bolder and his approach grander. This was a “concept album” about life, the universe and everything; brimming with edgy hard bop, chaotic modal grooves, and explorations that often tap into the dark side of The Force. The true stars of the session are Shorter’s compositions: their framework provides ample freedom for exploration yet enough structure to keep things from collapsing into into freeform cacophony. Shorter’s well-chosen band makes the most of this: Freddie Hubbard (trumpet) Alan Shorter (flugelhorn) Grachan Moncur III (trombone) James Spaulding (alto sax) Herbie Hancock (piano) Ron Carter (bass) Joe Chambers (drums)…the largest line-up he’d led so far. These players sound truly liberated and inspired. The results aren’t for everyone (the three star review at Amazon has probably scared away more than a few folks unfortunately), but if you’ve got the patience and open-mindedness to take joy in the abstract enigmas of tracks like “Chaos” and the title track, this record may become a favorite sooner than you’d think. I find this a riveting listen @wayne.shorter @herbiehancock

Wayne Shorter Speak No Evil

Wayne Shorter ‘Speak No Evil’

Wayne Shorter’s entire @bluenoterecords run is great, but if pressed I’d have to say this one is my favorite. Every time I play it I enjoy it a bit more—I don’t know that there’s a bigger or better endorsement of an album. It’s everything one could ask for: thrilling compositions that are hummable, memorable, engaging and full of surprises; a band that plays with gravitas, swing and telepathy; and a recording that captures the energy, power and nuance of the session. If this were the first jazz record you ever heard, you’d have picked a fantastic entry point. Veteran jazz listeners return to it again and again for good reason. The year was 1964 and Wayne brought along 2 of his Miles Davis second great quintet band mates Herbie Hancock (piano) and Ron Carter (bass) who by this point had both stage & studio experience enough with Wayne’s music to knock it out of the park. Add firebrand trumpeter Freddie Hubbard and drum powerhouse Elvin Jones and it’s no wonder that ‘Speak No Evil’ rises above great. This record should loom large in every jazz collection. This is Music Matters MMBST-84194, reissued in 2015 and sounding SPECTACULAR

Sam Rivers-Contours

Sam Rivers ‘Contours’ (Tone Poet edition 2019)

Mesmerizing. Fearless. Challenging. Indispensable. ‘Contours’ is a gripping record that will compel you to play it again and again. There’s one track called “Mellifluous Cacophony”—an apt description for this extremely progressive hard bop session that occasionally flirts with the avant-garde. You’ll hear beauty, anger, sadness, longing, confusion, and elation…the range of the music is staggering. It does have occasional sharp elbows so those who prefer a more distinctly melodic tonal center may have moments of panic but hold on tight—it’s worth it. Definitely music more for the head than the dancefloor. Intense, fascinating, dynamic, and endlessly replayable—the hallmark of a great, classic record. Mad respect to Sam Rivers (sax/flute), Herbie Hancock (piano), Freddie Hubbard (trumpet), Ron Carter (bass) and Joe Chambers (drums) who gathered on 21 May 1965 to create this rare unicorn. This is a brand new reissue, the latest in @bluenoterecords “Tone Poet” series overseen by Joe Harley. Sonically, this is some of the best work he’s done—spin this one for your friends/family who don’t understand the lure of vinyl. Props to all involved here…original pressings and reissues are all long out of print, and prices have gone sky-high. Now for $30 or so, you can own one of the all-time great under-recognized jazz records that sounds better than ever. Highest recommendation @jazzsaraswati @herbiehancockofficial

Miles Davis ‘In a Silent Way’ (Directions in Music by Miles Davis)

Released 50 years ago today, this album is ahead of its time, even now. Miles established the ground rules of framework and freedom. Producer Teo Macero leveraged technology in music-making that has since become nearly ubiquitous. The band—Wayne Shorter (soprano sax), Herbie Hancock & Chick Corea (electric piano), Joe Zawinul (organ, elec piano), John McLaughlin (guitar), Dave Holland (bass), and Tony Willams (drums)—all trusted in the creative process. The result: a dreamy, meditative voyage as @milesdavis ushered in a new era in jazz, once again re-writing the rulebook as he saw fit and trailblazing a new trajectory for the genre and for himself. This album’s impact, influence and significance in music, culture and technology continues to resonate. Anything with that much power is deserving of repeat spins, discussion and respect. Happy 50th ‘In a Silent Way’—I don’t think you’ll ever act your age