Herbie Hancock: The Piano

The Songs:Hancock-The Piano

  1. My Funny Valentine
  2. On Green Dolphin Street
  3. Someday My Prince Will Come
  4. Harvest Time
  5. Sonrisa
  6. Manhattan Island
  7. Blue Otani
  8. My Funny Valentine (Bonus Alternate Take)
  9. On Green Dolphin Street (Bonus Alternate Take)
  10. Someday My Prince Will Come (Bonus Alternate Take)
  11. Harvest Time (Bonus Alternate Take)

Personnel:

  • Herbie Hancock – acoustic piano

In October of 1978, Herbie Hancock was in Japan to record two audiophile direct-to-disc recordings. The first album, Directstep, featured his Headhunters band. The second album, The Piano, was recorded one week later. In the direct-to-disc recording process, an entire side of a vinyl album was recorded in one take and simultaneously transcribed onto a lacquer master, avoiding the use of magnetic tape. Because of this, no overdubbing is possible and if a mistake is made, the entire set must be re-recorded. This disc was released in early 1979 and was originally available only in Japan. It did not see a U.S. release until a CD was issued in 2004, 25 years after the original session. The CD includes 4 alternate takes, which constituted one recording set in the studio for the direct-to-disc engineering.

Hancock had been pioneering the use of electronic keyboards in jazz for several years up until this time, but 1978 saw a resurgence of interest for him in the acoustic piano. Other highlights of the year include a tour and recording with the Miles Davis tribute band V.S.O.P. and a highly acclaimed duet tour with fellow pianist Chick Corea, his successor in Miles’ band and another innovator on synthesizers.

The album consists of 3 ballads closely associated with Miles Davis, who Herbie performed them with frequently as a member of the classic “Second Quintet“. The remaining songs are all Hancock originals. The Piano remains unique among the dozens of albums in Hancock’s discography, as it is the only one to consist entirely of solo acoustic piano performances. As the most important and influential pianist since Bill Evans, Herbie is known for being a sensitive and creative accompanist, as well as for his dynamic interplay with other members of a typical rhythm section. This collection of powerful, yet understated solo outings offer a rare opportunity to hear his melodic inventiveness without any backdrop. In the words of the promotional material that accompanied the CD release, this is “an absolute lost gem in the dazzling discography of this master.” (Buy it here.)

This week’s post is dedicated to the memory of my dear college friend, Jamie Kelly, who was a talented jazz pianist and gifted writer. We had similar personalities and shared many interests. I have fond memories of playing some of the same standards found on this album with him. His love and compassion for others will remain as a great legacy to the family and friends he leaves behind. Rest in peace, kiddo.

Jamie

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The Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra: Consummation

ConsummationThe Songs:

  1. Dedication
  2. It Only Happens Every Time
  3. Tiptoe
  4. A Child Is Born
  5. Us
  6. Ahunk Ahunk
  7. Fingers
  8. Consummation

Personnel:

  • Thad Jones – flügelhorn
  • Mel Lewis – drums
  • Eugene “Snooky” Young, Danny Moore, Al Porcino, Marvin Stamm – trumpets
  • Jimmy Buffington, Earl Chapin, Dick Berg, Julius Watkins – French horns
  • Eddie Bert, Benny Powell, Jimmy Knepper, Cliff Heather – trombones
  • Howard Johnson – tuba
  • Jerome Richardson, Jerry Dodgion, Billy Harper, Eddie Daniels, Richie Kamuca, Pepper Adams, Joe Farrell – saxophones, woodwinds
  • Roland Hanna – acoustic & electric piano
  • Richard Davis – acoustic & electric bass
  • Dave Spinozza – guitar

The Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra was formed in the mid 1960’s as a reading/rehearsal band to give a creative outlet to some of New York’s top session players. Thad Jones, formerly from Count Basie’s band and brother of pianist Hank and drummer Elvin from John Coltrane’s classic quartet, wrote and arranged most of the music. The group’s co-leader was Mel Lewis, who had previously played in the Stan Kenton orchestra. The group developed a devoted following and soon established a weekly Monday night residency at one of New York’s top jazz clubs, the Village Vanguard, (a residency that continues to this day, long after the deaths of both leaders). During this time, they recorded several classic albums for Solid State/Blue Note, the last of which, (and widely held to be the finest), was Consummation.

The album consists of all Thad Jones compositions and arrangements, including his most famous piece, “A Child Is Born”. Jones’ great writing shines on each chart and includes the addition of French horns and tuba on the opening and closing cuts. Consummation also features sparkling performances from many of the star sidemen, especially the keyboard work of Sir Roland Hanna. From the funky rock infected songs like “Us” and “Ahunk Ahunk” to the swinging “Tiptoe” and “Fingers” and the delicate beauty of “A Child Is Born,” the album represents the band at its finest, receiving the band’s third Grammy nomination for best large group jazz performance. (Buy it here.)

Suggested Reading:

Chris Smith. The View From The Back Of The Band: The Life And Music Of Mel Lewis.

Suggested Viewing:

Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra & Woody Herman Band. Jazz Casual.

Charlie Haden & Hank Jones: Steal Away / Come Sunday

The Songs:

Steal Away: Spirituals, Hymns And Folk Songs

  1. Steal AwayIt’s Me, O Lord (Standing In The Need Of Prayer)
  2. Nobody Knows The Trouble I’ve Seen
  3. Spiritual
  4. Wade In The Water
  5. Swing Low, Sweet Chariot
  6. Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child
  7. L’Amour De Moy
  8. Danny Boy
  9. I’ve Got A Robe, You Got A Robe (Goin’ To Shout All Over God’s Heav’n)
  10. Steal Away
  11. We Shall Overcome
  12. Go Down, Moses
  13. My Lord, What A Mournin’
  14. Hymn Medley: Abide With Me / Just As I Am, Without One Plea / What A Friend We Have In Jesus / Amazing Grace

Come Sunday

  1. Come SundayTake My Hand, Precious Lord
  2. God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen
  3. Down By The Riverside
  4. Going Home
  5. Blessed Assurance
  6. It Came Upon The Midnight Clear
  7. Bringing In The Sheaves
  8. Deep River
  9. Give Me That Old Time Religion
  10. Sweet Hour Of Prayer
  11. The Old Rugged Cross
  12. Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?
  13. Nearer My God To Thee
  14. Come Sunday

Personnel:

  • Hank Jones – piano
  • Charlie Haden – bass

(In memory of Charlie Haden. I couldn’t decide which of these albums to post, so I finally decided to choose them both.)

In the summer of 1994, two jazz icons gathered in a studio to record an album of American roots music: spirituals, gospel hymns, and a couple of folk songs. Pianist Hank Jones, the older brother of cornetist Thad (co-leader with Mel Lewis of the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra), and drummer Elvin, (from John Coltrane’s famous quartet), grew up listening and playing this music in church, where his father was an active Baptist deacon. Likewise, Charlie Haden, an important sideman in Ornette Coleman’s and Keith Jarrett’s groups, as well as leader of his own, such as the Liberation Orchestra and Quartet West, started out performing with his family in Missouri while only a toddler, singing and playing country, folk, and gospel tunes. Both men were socially and politically active, especially in the struggle for civil rights in the 1960’s. (Haden had previously recorded “We Shall Overcome” with his Liberation Orchestra.)

In addition, Jones and Haden had a common and complementary approach to music. Both were fundamentally concerned with melody and simplicity in their playing styles. The combination of these elements formed a remarkable pair of albums, beginning with Steal Away. Their approach to recording these pieces was not simply to “jazz them up,” but to offer simple, uncluttered, takes that allowed the dignity and depth of the traditional spirituals and folk songs to shine through without need of further ornamentation.

Haden and Jones, (taken the recording session for "Come Sunday")

Haden and Jones, (taken during the recording sessions for “Come Sunday”)

After a span of over 15 years, the duo reunited to record Come Sunday, much like its predecessor, but dedicated completely to sacred music, including two Christmas carols and the acclaimed title track by Duke Ellington, (which he recorded with Mahalia Jackson). This would turn out to be Hank Jones’ final recording. The results of both albums offer meditative and worshipful music that captures the essence of jazz and faith, evoking what Charlie Haden always referred to as the importance of “being in the moment,” unconcerned about yesterday or tomorrow. These recordings pay tribute to music of the past, but bring it squarely into the present, offering a respite from the pressures or cares of day-to-day life.

Steal Away was nominated for a Grammy Award in 1996. Both albums cracked Billboard’s Top 10 for Jazz Albums. (Come Sunday also reached the Top 10 in the Christian and Gospel charts.) In reviewing Steal Away for Allmusic, Scott Yanow’s comments could apply equally to either album:

The traditional music… are all performed respectfully and with reverence. These melodic yet subtly swinging interpretations hold one’s interest throughout and reward repeated listenings.

Indeed, the rewards of repeated listenings just seem to increase with each play. These are perfect albums for Sunday morning, late night reflection, or any other time of quiet devotion. It is clear why both of these great artists were NEA Jazz Masters. (Buy them here and here.)

Suggested Reading:

Howard Thurman. Deep River And The Negro Spiritual Speaks Of Life And Death.

Suggested Viewing:

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