Herbie Hancock: Maiden Voyage

“Maiden Voyage” uses more static harmonic areas than a tune with a lot of fast moving changes. The first section moves from a D-suspended chord to an F-suspended chord, and the rhythmic feel is a cross between a straight eighth-note feel and a sort of Latin vibe. Instead of moving through a lot of harmonic changes, the song stays on these areas for a longer period of time. The way Herbie plays on it is less a question of lines than that he’s using the harmonic space as a springboard to play a great variety of musical ideas. Herbie's way of playing over the changes is so fresh, and the rhythmic feel is relaxed but intense at the same time. He's not playing through II-V-I standards harmony, or even bebop harmony. It’s much more of a modal thing. The song gives him time to flesh out ideas, some involving lines, and some of which are much more harmonic or rhythmic. I think that during this period when a lot of modal playing was happening, a lot of players were looking to slow down the harmonic movement of the tunes to allow a certain space to occur in order to allow a variety of melodic, rhythmic and textural ideas to develop within the solo. It’s not just playing lines over those chords, which could sound boring after a while. Herbie’s ideas follow each other logically, but there’s a feeling of contrast, of dialogue or a sort of discourse, where he presents one idea, then the next, and a story is being told. He’s also a very interactive player, and he’s feeding off of what’s happening in the rhythm section.

March 20, 2009 · 0 comments

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Herbie Hancock: Riot

I love “Riot” from Speak Like a Child, and I also like a song from that record called “First Trip.” In fact, every tune on Speak Like A Child has something special—I love the whole date. Herbie sounds so exuberant. It has a personal association, because Mickey Roker, who played in Philly a lot, is the drummer, and his swing is so effervescent and so clear. As a young musician I would always ask him what it was like to play with Herbie on Speak Like A Child.

On "Riot” I like the marriage between a very sophisticated arrangement and a group structure in which a small ensemble is playing versus Herbie’s solo. There’s one moment when Herbie has finished the first part of the solo, the ensemble comes in, sets up the next part, and Herbie hits this perfect chord. You get the feeling that he’s reacted to what’s going on with the arrangement that he wrote, but also that he found this new area, and BOOM, he hit this chord and he’s off again. The rhythm section (Ron Carter is playing bass) is propulsive, it’s grooving in a sort of medium swing, and Herbie’s killing it—he’s playing one new idea after another, line after line after line, and it goes on and on. He combines a lot of the things that make his style so instantly recognizable—there’s the real bluesy feel and swinging touch, but he also puts in a lot of unexpected, quirky things, a lot of rhythmic devices that work against the swing, and then also he really is the master of setting things and using tension-and-release.

March 20, 2009 · 0 comments

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Herbie Hancock: Succotash

One doesn’t normally think of Herbie in this context, but on Inventions and Dimensions, playing with a group you wouldn’t necessarily expect, he plays with Latin grooves as well as swing. It’s his new take on Latin music. From time to time, he nods towards the Latin piano tradition with montuno-like figures,etc., but then he brings in his own thing. It’s great to hear a musician try to explore different aspects of music that aren’t associated with what’s stereotypically supposed to be their thing, and yet, you can hear the authority and the creativity with which Herbie brings his own thing to that groove, as he did on Joe Henderson’s Double Rainbow record of Jobim songs, on which his soloing is also so joyous and swinging. At the time, many musicians were addressing polyrhythms and compound rhythms—in other words, the idea that you can go between different rhythmic feels and apply rhythmic feels that run counter to each other. A lot of Afro-Latin music, for example, contains a contrasting two-feel and three-feel, superimposes two or three rhythmic grooves on top of each other. This happens a lot on Inventions and Dimensions, and Herbie’s interest in this type of music has influenced many musicians.

March 20, 2009 · 0 comments

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Herbie Hancock: The Prisoner

On “The Prisoner” I love the contrast between what the ensemble is playing on the structure of the piece and the free playing in the solos. Herbie is soloing around A-minor, but it isn’t clearly defined. The solo goes through all these different permutations, and at one point Herbie starts a rhythmic figure that he starts to repeat, then sets up the ensemble to come back in, and it’s so perfect, and then the band comes in with their thing, and Herbie’s built the tension, built the tension, and then at some point, BOOM, it explodes, and you’re on to the next solo. There’s a perfect marriage between the arrangement and the uninhibited soloing. Of course, Joe Henderson is a big part of that, because he solos with such variety—he allows the setup to happen, and then just goes for it. Both Herbie and Joe combine a lot of different styles on their solos on this piece. They’re playing out, then they go from an out idea (out in the sense that it’s an almost atonal-nontonal thing) to something that goes into like a honking blues thing, which then goes into a really complicated line, and then transmogrifies into this other type of texture. It’s just going from one thing to another to another. It sounds totally logical, but emotionally, when you’re hearing it, it’s really gripping.

March 20, 2009 · 0 comments

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Lee Morgan: Ceora

Playing introductions is an art and Herbie's intro to “Ceora" features his expressive touch and beautiful chord voicings. Each chord is played with a different amount of pressure to give it a slightly different sound. Herbie uses the pedal to coax a variety of timbres out of the piano. His solo on this tune is also very subtle. He uses texture and space to give his playing an unhurried elegance and also adds some surprising chord substitutions in his solo. This is one of many wonderful examples of Herbie's depth as an accompanist.

March 20, 2009 · 0 comments

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Herbie Hancock: Firewater

Utilizing an array of different brass and reed players, this song has Herbie Hancock written all over it even though he didn't compose it. The bass clarinet shrieks at the beginning, and I simply cannot get enough of it. For Hancock's final Blue Note album, he again employs the larger orchestration found on some of his other Blue Note releases, and I marvel at the ideas Buster Williams came up with on this number. He is right at home walking the band through these changes. Though not the most exciting song on The Prisoner, this is certainly a fine selection.

March 15, 2009 · 0 comments

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Herbie Hancock: Empty Pockets

It's hard to believe that at the tender age of 22, Herbie Hancock stormed onto the jazz scene with his debut release for Blue Note Records, Takin' Off. Though it's best remembered for the song "Watermelon Man," which cracked the Billboard Top 100, it's a solid hard-bop album featuring the legendary Dexter Gordon and a young Freddie Hubbard. On this number, Hancock displays his affinity for the blues, with octave-fueled bursts of solos over a swinging beat by Billy Higgins. While this track's simplicity and catchiness were overshadowed by other tracks on the album, Hancock's age and the cast of characters make "Empty Pockets" noteworthy.

March 15, 2009 · 0 comments

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Herbie Hancock: The Sorcerer

Though most people are aware that the renowned Miles Davis quintet of the 1960s recorded this Herbie Hancock song, the composer's own version has a depth not found on Davis's version. Thad Jones is all over this dark track, showing his chops on the flugelhorn, which is a nice departure from the all-too-familiar trumpet. Hancock's piano work is superb, mixing demonic chordal tones with his usual blend of altered solo lines and triplet chromatic phrasing. This album was one of the last mainly acoustic albums Hancock released before he turned to fusion, and it demonstrates why he was and still is one of the greatest ever to touch the ivories.

March 15, 2009 · 0 comments

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Herbie Hancock: Riot

This was Herbie Hancock's second-to-last album for Blue Note Records, and man is it good. "Riot" opens with lush orchestration from the horn corps led by Thad Jones, followed by Hancock's signature use of the half-whole diminished scale. Ron Carter drives the band with Mickey Roker, the underrated Philly-bred bebop drummer. The backgrounds on Hancock's solo help to further establish this song as the album's crowning jewel. The main theme is repeated as Mr. Chameleon goes off on so many different melodic tangents that my mind spins in about 100 circles from the hypnotic nature of his ideas.

March 15, 2009 · 0 comments

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John Coltrane: Locomotion

Opening with a nice drum fill from Philly Joe Jones, this high-powered blues number should whet the appetite of any jazz aficionado. I think it's safe to say that Coltrane officially entered the top tier of jazz musicians on this album with his fluidity, sheer determination, and utter dominance of the tenor saxophone. The only way this could be further augmented was for him to surround himself with the top young jazz musicians of his time. Philly Joe Jones swings harder than a kindergarten kid on a playground, with a driving ride pattern that's further enhanced by the steadiness of Paul Chambers's bassline. Another wonderful feature on this album is the orchestration between Curtis Fuller, Lee Morgan and Coltrane, which adds some nice spice to this already satisfying gumbo.

March 15, 2009 · 0 comments

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John Coltrane: Lazy Bird

On this masterpiece from one of the most influential post-bebop albums, John Coltrane puts the imposters to rest with his rapidly executed saxophone. In addition to the stellar cast, Coltrane showcases his potent skills as a composer. Following a blazing solo by a young Lee Morgan, Coltrane contributes a textbook solo that I am sure was memorized note for note by thousands of young musicians. Plus the underrated pianist Kenny Drew forms, with Paul Chambers and Philly Joe Jones, a classic rhythm section that could swing harder than almost any around during this time.

March 15, 2009 · 0 comments

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Jimmy Smith: Midnight Special

“Midnight Special” may be the tastiest recording Jimmy Smith ever made. Recorded at a session that produced both the albums Back At The Chicken Shack and Midnight Special, this medium blues (an original, not the rock/blues classic) moves along at an absolutely perfect tempo and completely captures the mood of a slow-moving midnight freight train. It’s a groove you could ride all night, and while this cut comes in at just under 10 minutes, you get the feeling that the quartet played on it for another half-hour or so after the recording faded out. In fact, maintaining that groove seemed to be the primary goal and each soloist (most notably Smith) knew how to express himself without losing the mood. And in that regard, it’s important to note that there’s never the feeling of the soloists holding back. It’s just that wonderful skill of playing together to create something bigger and better than its individual parts.

March 15, 2009 · 0 comments

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John Coltrane: Blue Train

John Coltrane (and I think it was he, rather than his various producers) seemed to know which performances would mark the turning points of his career. Just think of three cornerstones: “Blue Train," “Giant Steps,” “My Favorite Things,” all title tracks of albums, and all the opening track on side 1 of those albums. Even in lesser cases like “Impressions” and “Olé," the same rule applied. And there is little question that the first of these examples, “Blue Train” represents the peak of Coltrane’s “sheets of sound” approach. Coltrane seems anxious to show off this new approach and when he launches into his solo, the intensity immediately goes up several degrees. It was Ira Gitler that coined the “sheets” phrase and while it is an effective description, it misses the element of rhythmic freedom that Coltrane found during this period. He creates rhythmic ideas that seem completely divorced from the ground beat, yet somehow they fit into their surroundings. Of course, Coltrane’s not the only star of “Blue Train”: the album has some of the finest Lee Morgan and Curtis Fuller solos to that time and the rhythm section is stunning throughout. I doubt that Coltrane had much interest in recreating the sound of an actual train on this recording, but there is a wonderful moment at the beginning of Fuller’s second chorus when Paul Chambers starts a boogie bass line and Kenny Drew picks it up for a couple of bars. It’s disarming when you hear it, and an interesting glance back into jazz history by musicians who seemed to always look forward.

March 15, 2009 · 0 comments

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Duke Pearson: New Girl

Duke Pearson's Big Band was a vital part of the New York jazz scene from the late 1960s to the mid '70s. This great band is largely forgotten today because it only recorded two albums and never toured much. One of the puzzling things was how much overlapping of personnel there was between Pearson's band and the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis band, as if there weren't enough talent in town to staff two big bands. It is a testament to Duke's individuality as a leader and composer-arranger – and to Bob Cranshaw's and Mickey Roker's distinctive, rock-solid rhythm work – that the two bands always sounded so different.

Duke Pearson's writing could best be described as an outgrowth and updating of the Tadd Dameron style, i.e., solid hard-bop roots with a tinge of romanticism. "New Girl" presents a memorably lyrical melody and a set of great blowing changes. Pearson's chart is colorful, swinging and to the point, and Mickey Roker stokes the fire in his own special way. Lew Tabackin and Burt Collins are the main soloists, and both are in top form. Though Tabackin's unique style is well known today, this track features him in the loping, booting Rollins-ish style that he employed when he first became prominent in New York. Burt Collins was to my mind the most underrated jazz trumpeter on the scene. Though he was one of the busiest studio players in town at the time, he was shamefully under-recorded as a soloist. This track features perhaps his finest recorded solo.

March 06, 2009 · 0 comments

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Jack Wilson: Serenata

Jack Wilson was a lyrical and versatile pianist whose career never really took off. He backed Dinah Washington for a year in the late 1950s and again in the early '60s, as well as accompanying many other top-notch singers. He also was active in film and TV studio work in Hollywood. His best known album as leader was probably his first of three for Blue Note, Something Personal, which had the extra added attraction of Roy Ayers during his pre-disco/funk/R&B period, when he was emerging as one of the young stars of jazz vibraphone.

"Serenata" received considerable airplay on jazz radio when Something Personal was released, being a most engaging treatment of the Leroy Anderson standard. Wilson's appealingly ringing sound and infectiously melodic and tasteful style grab your attention from the start, and his solo maintains a refined yet persistent momentum. Ayers's improv is also memorable from its first provocative tumbling run, his lines lucidly and attractively constructed. He possesses a load of technique, but prudently uses it only to good purpose. His brilliant solo here should be admired by just about any other vibist hearing it. Wilson's bluesy out-chorus is as definitive as one might desire, the highlight perhaps being some particularly inventive left-hand counter lines that he develops to great effect. This has remained a classic, if lesser-known, '60s Blue Note track for more than 40 years.

March 04, 2009 · 0 comments

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