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Herbie on acoustic piano in the 70's and 80's


Rooster_Ties
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This just in from Jazzmatazz...

<span style='font-size:14pt;line-height:100%'>NEW Herbie Hancock - The Piano (Columbia/Legacy) Aug 17

expanded edition</span> (wonder if that means any bonus material?? - RT)

( also this too: Herbie Hancock - VSOP - Live Under the Sky (Columbia/Legacy) Aug 17 )

I've never heard "The Piano" before, but on paper (or at least from the AMG review) it sure sounds interesting, especially "side two"...

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Recorded after the funky fusion of Head Hunters, Thrust, Sextant, and other electric albums, and before the dawn of "Rockit" and more commercially viable and hip-hop-oriented material, Herbie Hancock took time out in 1978 to touch base again with his piano. Recorded completely solo, this set was issued only in Japan as the truly awful Feets, Don't Fail Me Now was issued stateside. A curious set, the first half of the album features Hancock playing jazz standards in truly elegant and restrained fashion. His treatments of "My Funny Valentine," "Green Dolphin Street," and "Someday My Prince Will Come" — all tracks he performed as part of the Miles Davis Quintet — are elongated, morphed, and beautifully woven together as a suite. The latter half of the recording is comprised of four tracks, "Harvest Time," "Sonrisa," "Manhattan Island," and "Blue Otani," all of which are originals. These pieces are concerned with Hancock's preoccupation with the piano as a solo instrument. They are composed as formalist treatments that are extrapolated upon at several different junctures, or "turning points," within them. They embody notions of classical music à la Anton Webern, blues, Erroll Garner's lyrical phrasing, and Bill Evans' harmonic sensibilities. They are, in sum, inseparable from one another and are usually performed as a suite. This is a stunning triumph for Hancock, and it's too bad that the album has never been issued in the U.S., as it would undoubtedly be a popular addition to his vast catalog. About the closest one can come are the tracks from here included in The Herbie Hancock Box. Maybe someday. — Thom Jurek

Only a few short weeks ago did I ever hear Herbie's first trio album (of those released on in Japan in the 70's and 80's), meaning the one from 1977. I really love it, and here's the AMG review of it...

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The first V.S.O.P. tour triggered a flood of recording activity in July 1977, but only a fraction of it was released in the U.S. This session, recorded in San Francisco just days before the Quintet concerts in Berkeley and San Diego, finds Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Tony Williams mixing it up sans the horns — and the results are more reflective and cerebral than the full Quintet concerts. Hancock is thoroughly in control of the agenda while Williams throws in those meter-fracturing flurries that keep everyone on their toes. There is a startling re-interpretation of "Speak like a Child" which is significantly tougher and busier than the wistful Blue Note version, as well as challenging Hancock originals like "Whatcha Waiting For" and "Watch It." This is uncompromising acoustic jazz, commercial anathema in the electronic '70s — and thus, only Japan got to hear it. — Richard S. Ginell

Herbie also did another trio album (for Japan only) in 1981. Although I think the trio date from 1977 is stronger and more interesting, I do like the one from '81 too. (No AMG review, but here's the cover.)

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So, let's discuss all things related to Herbie recordings on acoustic piano in the 70's and 80's. What's worth getting?? What's really interesting?? When did he take chances?? How good is "The Piano"?? Sideman dates with Herbie on acoustic piano are fair game too. I'm especially interested in hearing about any other solo-piano dates, or any piano-trio things I might not be aware of otherwise.

Edited by Rooster_Ties
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RT, I was listening to Trio '81 earlier today actually. It's a date that I enjoy quite a bit, just hearing Herbie in a trio is a treat. I enjoy the long take of Dolphin Dance, Tony just sets up a mid tempo groove that Herbie gets off on quite nicely, plenty of heated playing. I prefer it to "Quartet" w/ WM, recorded the next day, though that one is pretty good too. Is the Trio '77 album being reissued? I read a post on Herbie's message board once where titles such as "Flood" (great one, got a CDR, gotta replace it with a real copy one of these days) were to be reissued this year..

As for the VSOP stuff, too bad they aren't reissuing "Tempest in the Colosseum" over "Live Under The Sky". I have the French imports of both and I prefer "Tempest". The playing is hotter, and Freddie, Herbie and Tony are especially on IMO. There's a spirited "Eighty One", with a funk beat for the head and a nice mid tempo swing/double time for the solos, and a nice "Red Clay" as a set ender. "Live Under the Sky" has fine playing, but there was a rain storm happening during the show that affected the instruments, Wayne's soprano is affected the worst, but compared to "Tempest" or even "The Quintet" albums, "Live Under the Sky" is the weakest. The playing is not bad by any means, it just doesn't rise to as exciting heights.

Edited by CJ Shearn
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With my usual high expectations of Herbie, I bought the Jap import CD of 'The Piano' about 6 years ago. I was hoping for an even greater complexity of chordal phrasing in the opening standards ('Green Dolphin', etc.). What I got was indecisive and meandering -- a definate off-day for Herbie. I've gone back to this disc about every year just to be sure it wasn't MY off-day. Nope, same conclusion every time. For Hancock completists ONLY.

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S'Allreet. Given the paucity of acoustic solo Herbie for the late-70's, seeing this single copy at the Atlanta Tower was like finding The Golden Fleece. Well, at $24.99 it turned out to be more of the latter. Herbie just ain't happening on 'The Piano', whether you got it intensely in the foreground or atmosphering the background. Maybe the 'expanded' version will have some cool new tracks.

All these years, I've been taken with Herbie's 'Evening With' Chick Corea, recorded in '78, as your can feel their brains really stretching into new jazz theory. That's the solo acoustic shit, and Chick rises to the occasion, too.

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Just collected the information from my Herbie Hancock Box. Is this everything he recorded on acoustic piano in the 70's and 80's? Please, feel free to add to the list if you know some other sessions.

VSOP (June 29, 1976) – FH, WS, HH, RC, TW.

THE HH TRIO (July 13, 1977) – HH, RC, TW.

Red Clay (previously unissued track, July 18, 1977) – FH, WS, HH, RC, TW.

VSOP-TEMPEST IN COLOSSEUM (July 23, 1977) – FH, WS, HH, RC, TW.

THE PIANO (October 26, 1978) – HH.

VSOP-LIVE UNDER THE SKY (July 26, 1979) – FH, WS, HH, RC, TW.

VSOP-FIVESTARS (July 29, 1979) – FH, WS, HH, RC, TW.

HH WITH RC & TW (July 27, 1981) – HH, RC, TW.

QUARTET (-81) – WM, HH, RC, TW.

‘ROUND MIDNIGHT (-85) – BMcF, HH, RC, TW (etc?).

Wish Sony would issue all the VSOP recordings as a boxed set! Any chances?

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I forgot the duo show with Chick Corea.

VSOP (June 29, 1976) – FH, WS, HH, RC, TW.

THE HH TRIO (July 13, 1977) – HH, RC, TW.

Red Clay (previously unissued track, July 18, 1977) – FH, WS, HH, RC, TW.

VSOP-TEMPEST IN COLOSSEUM (July 23, 1977) – FH, WS, HH, RC, TW.

AN EVENING WITH HH & CC (February, 1978) – HH, CC.

THE PIANO (October 26, 1978) – HH.

VSOP-LIVE UNDER THE SKY (July 26, 1979) – FH, WS, HH, RC, TW.

VSOP-FIVESTARS (July 29, 1979) – FH, WS, HH, RC, TW.

HH WITH RC & TW (July 27, 1981) – HH, RC, TW.

QUARTET (-81) – WM, HH, RC, TW.

‘ROUND MIDNIGHT (-85) – McFerrin, HH, RC, TW (etc?).

It says on the booklet of the HH Box that the other half of his Dedication (-74) solo recording is acoustic. Has anyone heard this one?

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If you count sideman dates, there are two LPs on JVC by the Hancock/Carter/Williams trio under Carter's name:

Third Plane - July 13, 1977

1 + 3 - July 29, 1978

both probably available as OJC CDs.

He also appeared on Wynton Marsalis' first Columbia LP, AFAIR.

Herbie often sounds more relaxed and daring on sideman dates - and his mind was more on the funk experiments in those years, it seems.

I recently saw a TV broadcast of the recent Directions tour with Hancock, Michael Brecker, Roy Hargrove, George Mraz and an excellent young drummer whose name I cannot remember right now, and Herbie played long dynamic solos, much better than on the Verve CD. Brecker was disappointing, playing clean, but too controlled. If Herbie cuts loose, watch out!

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It says on the booklet of the HH Box that the other half of his Dedication (-74) solo recording is acoustic. Has anyone heard this one?

I think it is nice, bit not indispensable. It was recorded in Japan during a Headhunters tour. He did a short TV interview the evening of his Frankfurt concert, admitting he had always been an accompanist and didn't feel that comfortable playing solo, especially as they had been expecting some funky licks, but the band was already setting up on stage ... he said this was very hard to do without drums and proceeded to play some blues licks on the TV studio Steinway. The band live was fantastic, of course.

In the original Japanese liner notes he said recording solo was a challenge for him - it was a request from SONY Japan - I think he never would have done this without them. For good reason he had some synth backing his Fender Rhodes soloing on side two, which I like and usually play as a meditative introduction to the Headhunters CD. The acoustic solos on side one are indeed a little meandering. Herbie is a reactive player using the rhythmic kick of the drummers as an inspiration for his counter-rhythmic lines, the rhythmic aspect is even more important than his harmonic sophistication. That was the main reason why the encounter with Corea worked so well.

Edited by mikeweil
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Mike, that's interesting you mention Herbie's responsiveness to rhythm. I agree that he really likes to engage drummers, Tony for one and then now with Terri Lyne Carrington and Brian Blade on "Directions". I have a boot of a "Directions" tour from 9/20/01 where on some tunes Herbie just ignites a fire by just hammering certain licks over and over, Blade responds quite nicely. Ditto with DJ Disk on "This is DJ Disk" on the Future2Future Live DVD. I personally think a lot of the Japanese released VSOP, and acoustic stuff I've heard from Herbie is fantastic.

Edited by CJ Shearn
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One more reason to get me the Future 2 Future DVD - I saw them live here in Frankfurt and was delighted! The second keyboarder was no slouch, too, playing a long solo on the encore piece (Chameleon) when Wallace Roney didn't want to solo that got Herbie's applause - Terry Linn Carrington was playing rather routine grooves and licks that evening.

Thanks for the affirmation.

Edited by mikeweil
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Thanks for the info, Mike. I need to find the trio sessions led by Carter.

The four trio dates would make a very nice Mosaic (select), wouldn’t they? It’s a shame the people at Fantasy are not co-operative with the Mosaic staff.

But the VSOP box is something I’m really waiting to happen in my lifetime (I’m 33)…

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  • 3 years later...

Have to take exception to some of the comments about 'The Piano' here!

Where I'm coming from...I personally do not enjoy a lot of Herbie's stuff. I haven't bothered with any of the recent releases. I have to confess, I can really take or leave him with Miles. I enjoy the early BN stuff - e.g. Takin' Off, and his playing on KD's 'Una Mas'; but don't care too much e.g. for Empyrean Isles or the stuff with Shorter...These are just my preferences - wouldn't want to argue about any of it...BUT:

I think 'The Piano' is stunning, particularly the standard tunes and the blues. The producer's note suggests that Herbie was inspired by the format (direct-to-disc) - that the challenge of complete performance and having to be 'dead on' from a timing point of view really pushed him to great things. I agree in a sense - I feel that it's a bit like a return to 3-minute tracks - he simply DOESN'T have time to be self indulgent. I sometimes get the feeling with Herbie that because he CAN, he DOES - e.g. you get him with a clever rhythm section who subdivide this-by-that, metric modulations, etc. etc. etc., and he'll get all 'clever' back (at the expense of the music). But obviously solo here, there's no-one to tempt him. There's some very dense, very beautiful voicing, but nothing 'precious'. None of the self-consciously 'hip' stuff which has maybe made some of his playing become a caricature of itself (and which lots of post-Herbie/Jarrett/Corea pianists seem to have bought into...). Nothing 'slick'. He can definitely be heard thinking through things, rather than 'running his stuff'.

Plus, the recording quality is phenomenal.

Just another perspective - am very very surprised to see this one get such short shrift above!

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Ron Carter playing Bach on cello > V.S.O.P.

No, no no, no, no.

Which is not to "defend" VSOP, just that Ron Carter playing Bach is a realm of wrongness deeeeeep unto itself.

Myself, I think that Herbie should've never unplugged. For better (some) or worse (some more), that was his final destination, and he backed off when it became convinient, and by then he had lost the impetus and went instead for the pianetus. But he's always been first and foremost a texturalist (whatever that means, but I will say that when he uses harmony as harmony, ti's not nearly as effective as when he uses it as texture), and he got all of that out of straight piano + horns that he was gonna get a looooong time ago. Probably the same thing w/the pluggedinshit too, but that's a failure more of individual steam rather than outgrowing a form(at).

Edited by JSngry
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Hagiography is certainly an issue in jazz crit; I've been guilty myself. Lord knows, Herbie's uneven output demands the most level-headed assessment one can muster. Has anyone else in jazz had the talent, nee genius, to fly as high and then stoop so low?

But at the end of the day, his contributions still rank among the most important of any on his instrument since 1960, even if you accept the premise that he produced nothing of real value after 1968 (which I don't). EDC is throwing the baby out with the bathwater. The idea that the Blue Notes "were hardly all that" and the patronizing attitude oozing through a statement like "Herbie might have once had something, sort of," profoundly downplays the scope of his achievement and influence on the sound of contemporary jazz -- reconciling Powell, Garland, Kelly, Jamal, Evans, blues, impressionist and modern classical harmony with his own melodic imagination, quick ears, progressive temperament and swing. The Blue Notes are fundamental to the DNA of jazz, and "Empryean Isles" and "Maiden Voyage" particularly are masterpieces, especially, for me, the former, where Herbie's spontaneous linear invention, harmony, rhythmic flexibility and touch have a sweeping authority that remains state of the art. And that's leaving aside the compositional ideas, the quick-witted accompaniment, the contribution with Miles and the "team player" aspects (which, in fairness, EDC acknowledges) and the extraordinary number of great records that he elevates with his presence ("Speak No Evil," "Oblique," "Search for the New Land" for starters.) At his best, I don't think there's been anyone greater.

Now, how often he has been at his best is a different issue, or whether the positives of this or that later project outweight the negatives or whether he's coasting on his natural talent or truly digging deep or talking jive about "possibilities" but really just looking to cash a big check, not that cashing a big check doesn't hold some allure. For myself, I've developed a great love for the Mwandishi band and live Head Hunters (check out "Flood." Whew!). The former is pretty damned abstract and not commercial at all; and while there's obviously a populist thrust to Head Hunters, at its most inspired the funky grooves and adventurous blowing form an alluring marriage in which the aesthetic tension or paradox of the means actually makes the end results more compelling. The cats are playing.

VSOP is, um, well, let's move on ... Actually, my problem with VSOP has never been Herbie, who to my ears often sounds great. It's the weirdly proportioned balances -- could Tony bash any more indiscriminately and could Ron's bass sound any louder or more rubbery? -- and the overall lack of taste. (Jesus, Freddie, if you play that lip-slur thing one more time I'm going to scream.) Those concerts were all played in big outdoor venues and to play in those places you have to fill up the space in way that precludes the kind of subtleties that lent so much magic to their previous work in intimate clubs or recording studios. That's not to excuse the excesses of the music but the circumstances, including cheering crowds, didn't help.

For the record, I like much of the new Joni Mitchell project; there's some exquisite, communicative playing between Herbie, Holland and Shorter, and I even like some, not all, of the singers. Of course, the marketing is a tsunami. This is America and Herbie and Joni are stars. But I'm not responding to that; I'm responding to my ears. Unlike "Possibilities," which was trash, this is a serious record, albiet not to everyone's taste.

Jim: What do you mean by harmony as harmony as opposed to harmony as texture? Any specific examples?

Edited by Mark Stryker
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Jim: What do you mean by harmony as harmony as opposed to harmony as texture? Any specific examples?

Specific examples, off the top of my head, no, but what I mean, and you can probably come up with some on your own, is that sometimes Herbie stretches the harmony out for primarily functional reasons, and sometimes he does it for primarily coloristic reasons. You can usually tell which is which, because when it's functional, he'll patternize it and shit, but when it's for color/texture, all bets are off as to where it's gonna go. The drag for me is that as the years go by, it's become more and more of the former, and perhaps not coincidentally, it seems to me to have begun when he made the hard switch back to playing accoustic piano. Not that it was the fault of the instrument or anything, just that that might have been a sign of a willingness to play off his "image" as a Badass Jazz Painist, which he certainly has been. But...

I don't know if the guy's run out of ideas, or if he's got ideas but doesn't think that they're marketable enough to support him and his in the manner to which he's become accustomed, or if he's just at one of those "comfort" levels where he has nothing left to prove to himself, or what, but Village Life is the kind of thing that has long left me thinking that this might be one of those guys who might have a whole 'nother level that he doesn't show for whatever reason. But then again, if you don't use it, do you lose it?

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Clem: I'm feeling some deja vu here related to our discussion about Aretha.

Somehow, you feel differently about the early brilliant work of an artist if the later work was not up to par. Why can't the earlier work just stand by itself in that case? Artistic inspiration is not apparently something that can be easily contolled. Some people get it for a limited time and then lose it. That is much better than par for the course in this life, which is never to get it at all. :)

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If you're going to comapre everybody to MAx Roach, damn near almost everybody's gonna fall short. And there it is.

This is not something I take lightly, having suffered (and still prone to suffering) massive bouts of inferiority complexes for exactly this same reason. I'm a tenor player. So was Coleman Hawkins, so was LEster Young, so was Sonny Rollins, so was John Coltrane. Ooops, don't need me then, do you now...

Even making room under the highest bar, so was Joe Henderson, so was Harold Land, so was Chu Berry, so were ahelluva lot of people. Ooops, still don't need me then, do you now...

I'm really into balance these days, seems like the right/best/whatever way to keep shit from getting dysfunctional and/or destructive and still be real. So, although I applaud edc's militancy in the face of machine-generated manipulative fal$e iconographie$ and fully recognize giving tit for tat, outside of the that particular arena, there's a different reality at play, and in that one, Herbie Hancock, faults real and imagined alike, has plenty to be proud about (and although I don't know how the hell it's happened, I've seen Speak Like A Child go in estimation from "masterpiece" to "snoozer" in the last 35 or so years...) & just as much to not be proud about.

Yes, I can acknowledge the hype & the wasted/overinflated/whatevers and the real accomplishments equally. I also maintain that the guy's real strengths & instincts lie in the areas of color & texture, and that the further from those focal points his various works venture, the more prone to disappointment I am. And vice-versa. Is he a Freakin' Genius? Hell no. But he ain't a Worthless Specimen Of Masturatory Offal either, unless you wanna play the game where there's only one level that really counts.

And even if there really is (and I still can't disabuse myself of the notion that there is...), that shit'll make you suicidal - y'all don't hear me now, literally suicidal - if you can't make peace with the concept of "relative worthiness". And suicidal just ain't cool with me these days.

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