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Herbie Hancock: Maiden Voyage

Greg Simmons By

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There are few worse examples of a masterpiece performance being savaged by poor recording quality than Herbie Hancock's Maiden Voyage. This very expensive recent re-release on 45RPM vinyl by Analogue Productions only serves to highlight its engineering travesty.

Rudy Van Gelder had the great fortune to record the best of the best in jazz for Prestige, Blue Note and other notable labels of the 1950s and '60s. The signature RVG stamped in the dead wax of these albums marks not only his recording, but his mastering and pressing as well. He was involved in the production of these records from top to bottom.

But there is one peculiarity to Van Gelder's recordings of the '50s and '60s that is almost universal: the piano. For whatever the reason, that piano—with only a few passable exceptions—sounds like it was recorded underwater, or under a blanket in a closet, on virtually every recording he engineered. It's not hard to imagine, if given the opportunity to set up a session to record a leading pianist like Herbie Hancock (or Duke Ellington, or Horace Silver, or McCoy Tyner), that the studio piano would sound its best. This apparently did not dawn on Van Gelder until many years later. His pianos always sound small, dulled and indistinct.

Worse yet, on this particular album, recorded in a single session in March 1965, the entire band sounds murky and blurred. No amount of phenomenal re-mastering by the good folks at Acous-Tech—who have painstakingly transferred the original master tapes to these new 45 RPM slabs of petroleum product—can overcome what was a botched job in the first place. Other albums in the series, including a magnificent pressing of John Coltrane's Blue Trane (Blue Note, 1957), and titles by Dexter Gordon, Paul Chambers, and Art Blakey all sound excellent, except for that piano. Maiden Voyage suffers needlessly in its entirety.

Make no mistake: musically, Maiden Voyage is an outstanding album. It's a bridge between hard bop and some more adventurous music to come, with an all-star lineup doing justice to Hancock's original compositions. The always exciting Freddie Hubbard plays his heart out on every track, and saxophonist George Coleman, while not quite as adventurous on his tenor, still turns in a fine performance.

This two-disk 45 RPM pressing costs fifty dollars—a lot of money for a single album. Unfortunately, there is nothing to be gained from a first-class analogue pressing of an album that, sadly, was not recorded with the attention to sound quality that it deserved.

Track Listing: Maiden Voyage; The Eye of the Hurricane; Little One; Survival of the Fittest; Dolphin Dance.

Personnel: Herbie Hancock: piano; Freddie Hubbard: trumpet; George Coleman: tenor saxophone; Ron Carter: bass; Tony Williams: drums.

Title: Maiden Voyage | Year Released: 2011 | Record Label: Blue Note Records

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