Sunday, March 22, 2009

Herbie Hancock – The Complete 60's Recordings (Blue Note, 1998)

(Part One, Discs 1-3) Pianist and composer Herbie Hancock came to Blue Note courtesy of trumpeter Donald Byrd, who discovered him while playing in Chicago. It didn't take Hancock long after moving to New York in 1961 to make a splash. Disc one leads off with an outtake from Donald Byrd's LP Chant, an auspicious beginning to his recording career in the performance “Three Wishes” which introduces him to his lifelong friend and musical partner Wayne Shorter, who dazzles on tenor saxophone. Things then move on to his debut recording as a leader, Takin' Off, with Freddie Hubbard on trumpet, Dexter Gordon on tenor saxophone, Butch Warren on bass and Billy Higgins on drums. This is an amazingly talented group and they provide a very confident performance, highlighted by the first appearance of what would become a Hancock staple, Mongo Santamaria's funky classic “Watermelon Man.” Disc two (most of which is the Hancock led album My Point of View) has a slightly different feel, with a frontline of Byrd on trumpet, Hank Mobley on tenor saxophone and Grachan Moncur III on trombone. Adding additional texture is one of my favorites, Grant Green on guitar, along with Chuck Israels on bass and Tony Williams on drums. The arrangements for the larger group are interesting, but it is another funky track that carries the day. “Blind Man, Blind Man” is superficially similar to “Watermelon Man” but the band takes the funky feel into a different direction here, adding Tony Williams ever evolving percussion and Green's perfectly timed accents. Disc three begins with a bit of a detour, the album Inventions and Dimensions where Hancock and bassist Paul Chambers collaborate with percussionists Willie Bobo and Oswaldo Martinez. The sound of the hand percussion is pretty cool, and gives the songs a Latin feel that is never gimmicky expecially on the tracks “Mimosa” and “Jack Rabbitt” which are highlights. As good as this music is however, it is over shadowed by the inclusion on disc three of my all time favorite Hancock album, Empyrean Isles. Hubbard returns, this time on cornet, in one of the most massive performances of his career, and Ron Carter and Tony Williams hold down the bass and drum slots. This is the perfect band for this wide open but not quite free music. Hubbard is the sole horn, and is simply awesome throughout as is Williams, a 19 year old dynamo who locks in with Carter to propel the music forward. Funk is here in the form of “Cantaloupe Island” where Hancock's almost static vamp provides the scaffolding for the rest of the band to improvise on. The fourteen minute epic “The Egg” moves through several different sections from taught group improvisation to open soloing. The entire album is perfect, and if Hancock never recorded another note, this would have immortalized him.
The Complete Blue Note 60's Sessions -

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