Herbie Hancock: Great Sessions

Chris May By

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Herbie Hancock's music has been in a continuous state of flux since he first started recording in the early 1960s, yet it's possible to identify four distinct phases in his development: the more or less conventional, if more than usually distinctive, hard bop of the very early days; the restlessly exploratory acoustic music made with the Miles Davis quintet from 1963-1968, and under his own name during that period; the post-Davis electric experiments with the sextet, Mwandishi and Head Hunters in the late 1960s and 1970s; and the catholic and eclectic potpourri of the past twenty five years, which has taken in everything from electro (most memorably on 1984's Bill Laswell-produced Future Shock) through classical, popular song repertory and in-the-tradition straight-ahead acoustic jazz.

There are some astonishing albums amongst that pedigree, but few as exquisitely beautiful and timeless as the early 1965 masterpiece Maiden Voyage and its almost-twin, mid 1964's Empyrean Isles. Both albums are included in this budget-priced three-pack in Blue Note's Great Sessions series. The third album included is the later, overtly transitional Speak Like A Child, from 1968. All three albums are here in their RVG remaster editions.

The lineups for the first two albums are practically the Davis band of the time, with Freddie Hubbard taking Davis' place alongside Hancock, bassist Ron Carter and drummer Tony Williams, and tenor saxophonist George Coleman expanding the Empyrean Isles quartet to a quintet for Maiden Voyage.

There are, inevitably and gloriously, deep resonances with the Davis band, but also big differences. First amongst these is an open-hearted disposition from which Davis' brooding presence is entirely expunged. There are virtually no dark corners on either album, which are instead sunny, playful and gorgeously melodic. Both albums are entirely composed of Hancock originals.

Hubbard might at first seem an unlikely replacement for Davis, particularly in such a joyous context. But though he's a mean bastard, just like Davis, Hubbard will explode where Davis would sulk and fester, and he wears his heart on his sleeve. His outgoing personality sits happily with his colleagues, and he produces some of his finest early recorded work on these albums.

Speak Like A Child is another melodic and mostly softspoken set, with another fine clutch of Hancock originals (including "Riot" and "Sorcerer," both previously recorded, with more turmoil, by the Davis band), and featuring experiments with instrumentation and sonority that Hancock would develop, in electric contexts, shortly afterwards. Note for note, this is probably the best Great Sessions package yet.

Track Listing: CD1: Empyrean Isles: One Finger Snap; Oliloqui Valley; Cantaloupe Island; The Egg; One Finger Snap (alternate take); Oliloqui Valley (alternate take). CD2: Maiden Voyage: Maiden Voyage; The Eye Of The Hurricane; Little One; Survival Of The Fittest; Dolphin Dance. CD3: Speak Like A Child: Riot; Speak Like A Child; First Trip; Toys; Goodbye To Childhood; The Sorcerer; Riot (first alternate take); Riot (second alternate take); Goodbye To Childhood (alternate take).

Personnel: Herbie Hancock: piano; with CD1: Freddie Hubbard: cornet; Ron Carter: bass; Tony Williams: drums. CD2: Freddie Hubbard: trumpet; George Coleman: tenor saxophone; Ron Carter: bass; Tony Williams: drums. CD3: Thad Jones: flugelhorn; Peter Phillips: bass trombone; Jerry Dodgion: alto flute; Ron Carter: bass; Mickey Roker: drums.

Title: Great Sessions | Year Released: 2006 | Record Label: Blue Note Records


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