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Herbie Hancock: Inventions and Dimensions

Greg Simmons By

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Recorded in August of 1963, pianist Herbie Hancock's Inventions and Dimensions puts pulsing, grooving rhythms at the center of the music, with Latin percussive elements and—in the best jazz tradition of the times—lots of blues. This isn't Hancock's most well-known date from his tenure at Blue Note, but it's an important recording for both its structural sophistication and the notably high quality of the piano improvisations, no small feat for so superlative an artist.

The title of the opening "Succotash" suggests some down-home blue burner that might have been at home on one of the label's funkier soul-jazz recordings, but is, in fact, nothing of the sort. A precursor to "The Egg," that would appear on Empyrean Isles(Blue Note, 1964), it balances on the back of drummer Willie Bobo's steady, undulating 4/4 brushwork and bassist Paul Chambers' complex but ultimately trance-like repetition. Variations from the core rhythmic structure are virtually nonexistent, even as the pair makes subtle adjustments within the framework. Hancock's melodic statement—if it could be called that—sounds more like a fragment from some forgotten longer melody, as though he plucked one measure from something larger and then just dwelled on it. It's a model of an extremely sophisticated performance with just a few spare parts. Adding percussionist Osvaldo Martinez, here playing the guiro, covers the whole thing with some tangy Latin sauce.

Switching up immediately on "Triangle," Hancock returns to a modal progression that could have been an outtake from Miles Davis' Kind of Blue(Columbia 1959). Using sparse chords as a foundation, à la Kind of Blue's "Freddie Freeloader," Hancock proceeds to overlay the blues over the top. The pianist had just joined Davis' band in May of that year, and was regularly playing the music from Kind of Blue, so it makes sense that he was experimenting with its forms in his own music. The rhythm section here is toned down a bit, as Martinez lays out for most of the track leaving the piano to lead the charge. Hancock is generally a pretty accessible player, and his work here doesn't entirely deviate from that, but the complexity of his work on this track approaches some of the avant-garde inventions of Andrew Hill. Careful listening is rewarded with this one.

Of Course, this is a fifty year-old record, so by now the savvy AAJ reader might be wondering, "Why is this news?" Well, jazz nut and vinyl entrepreneur Ron Rambach has reissued Inventions and Dimensions as part of his Music Matters Blue Note series, pressed on two 180 gram, 45 RPM, long-play records. Remastered directly from the original master tapes, the sound is simply glorious. As usual with the Music Matters series, these pressing blow away any CD version of the same record with detail, scale, and dynamics to beat the band. The ultimate issue of a classic Hancock date, this is likely to be the best that will ever be pressed.

Track Listing: Succotash; Triangle; Jack Rabbit; Mimosa; Jump Ahead.

Personnel: Herbie Hancock: piano; Paul Chambers: bass; Willie Bobo: drums; Osvaldo "Chihuahua" Martinez: congas, bongos, guiro and finger cymbals.

Title: Inventions and Dimensions | Year Released: 2012 | Record Label: Blue Note Records

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