Hailey Niswanger: Oliloqui Valley

Like the other compositions on Hancock’s brilliant Empyrean Isles, “Oliloqui Valley” was conceived as a open sketch without a fully formed melody so that the participants could improvise more freely. The idea was to make up for the lack of a lower-toned, richer instrument such as tenor saxophone.

Niswanger’s higher register alto sax replaces Freddie Hubbard’s trumpet from the original and states the two-tempo theme just has Hubbard did, but with a little more cadence. Following Palma’s bouncy solo, Niswanger uses a variety of articulations to keep her own solo fresh: trills, arpeggios and other expressions, keeping loose with that shifty rhythm. More than those things, her ability to handle the song’s chord changes with such ease is the mark of mastery.

When a song stretches over seven minutes as this one does, the ideas are usually exhausted by then; instead, Hailey Niswanger seems to be just getting warmed up.

August 17, 2009 · 0 comments


Christian McBride / Nicholas Payton / Mark Whitfield: Oliloqui Valley

With Herbie Hancock's celebration of Joni Mitchell, River: The Joni Letters, receiving much recent acclaim, now is perhaps a good time to revisit a relatively unknown tribute to Hancock himself. Fingerpainting explored 14 Hancock tunes with the unusual instrumentation of bass, trumpet and guitar, and succeeded in capturing their spirit and essence. These three musicians were among Verve's top young recording artists at that time, but Fingerpainting was anything but a record company's self-serving, overproduced project.

"Oliloqui Valley" is a prime example, a composition originally on Hancock's 1964 Empyrean Isles. Beginning with McBride's repeated six-note bassline, you are irresistibly drawn in as Payton enters soothingly above Whitfield's tender chords, playing the simple yet compelling theme. Whitfield solos first, propelled by McBride's gorgeously intoned bass commentary. The guitarist blends chime-like chordal passages with glistening single-note lines, while also examining various tonal textures and note clusters. Payton's next, his expansive sound and formidable chops enabling him to evoke Freddie Hubbard (who played on Hancock's 1964 original), but filtered through his own musical personality. The trumpeter's extended phrasings are authoritatively constructed, with a glowing purity of tone. An enhanced replay of the melody leads to a gentle, understated conclusion. This trio should forever fondly remember Fingerpainting. It does them, and Herbie, proud.

April 15, 2008 · 0 comments


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