Thursday, October 20, 2005

Herbie Hancock - The Prisoner

Herbie hancock
The prisoner

Blue note

Recorded at Rudy Van Gelder, April 18,21 & 23, 1969

1. I Have A Dream (Hancock)
2. The Prisoner (Hancock)
3. Firewater (*) (Williams)
4. He Who Lives In Fear (Hancock)
5. Promise of the Sun (*) (Hancock)


JOHNNY COLES, flugelhorn
JOE HENDERSON, tenor sax and alto flute
HERBIE HANCOCK, piano and electric piano
JEROME RICHARDSON, bass clarinet (and flute on (*))
ROMEO PENQUE (*), bass clarinet
TONY STUDD, bass trombone
JACK JEFFERS (*), bass trombone

Herbie hancock is one of the great names of jazz. Indeed, he still plays very well from what I’ve heard. But most of the attention is lavished on two periods in his enormously varied career – his early Blue Note sides (My Point Of View, Empyrean Isles, et al.) and the 70’s funk gems like Headhunters and Thrust. Great albums all, but much of his career gets unfairly overlooked, and there are a few 'lost' Hancock albums, like this one. It’s not really had much of a life, being briefly issued on cd in the 80’s before vanishing and reappearing in the 1990’s. It’s a beautifully produced Rudy Van Gelder recording and is now available as one of Blue Note’s desirable RVG editions (mine's a 1990's reissue - with japanese sleevenotes, so i've had to put in more work than usual finding out about this LP).

The music is some of Hancock’s finest. It's post-bop, but much more melodic than what he had just been doing with Miles (he'd just left the great 60's quintet). It also gives a nod towards the sort of funk he’d be plying in the mid 70’s as well as introducing the space (the space – sometimes it’s the bits you don’t hear that mark out a great herbie hancock record) that would feature in his recordings with the Mwandishi band in the coming years.

Undoubtedly the stand out track is the opener, “I have a dream”. As the title suggests, it’s a tribute piece to Martin Luther King. Instead of raw anger turned into raw emotion (see Archie Shepp’s ‘Attica Blues’), this is contemplative music that suggests Dr. King’s love of peaceful protest. Herbie really stretches out over the tracks 10 minutes, playing some fine melodic lines with a feeling of great reverence. His large band also contributes some excellent supportive play – the rhythms are continually inventive whilst remaining in an addictive groove, and the soloing of Joe Henderson and Johnny Coles is every bit as good as Herbie’s.

The rest of the album struggles to live up to the opener, sadly, but sounds fantastic throughout due to the lovely warm production that so well suits the meditative mood of much of the music. It’s as if the band had pulled out “I have a dream” and were so in awe of it that they tried to repeat it’s success – and of course that never works out well. Not that the other tracks are bad, mind you, just not as good. Special mention for the bass clarinet playing on “Firewater” – well played, and what a great sounding instrument. You just know that a guy called Romeo Penque is going to be able to play great jazz. Nice ensemble playing on this track, too.

Where did Herbie go next? Big funk, briefly (fat albert rotunda) then off to the stratosphere with the Mwandishi band and all the Dr. Patrick Gleason influenced electronics. But this album captures him beautifully when his music was still purely jazz, while still showing his ability to pioneer new sounds.

Herbie Hancock Links

Herbie at Blue Note Records
Official Site
Wilson & Alroy's Record Reviews - with mini reviews of lots of his albums
Herbie at Verve Records
Wikipedia article on Herb, with a good discography

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