Selection: Dolphin Dance (mono)
Freddie Hubbard (trumpet) George Coleman (tenor saxophone) Herbie Hancock (piano) Ron Carter (bass) Anthony Williams (drums) recorded Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, March 17, 1965
What words can describe this in my view triumph of Hancock’s ’60’s Blue Note recordings? – compelling, refreshing, luminous, liquid gold. Hancocks previous album Empyrean Isles was an altogether darker and more edgy quartet affair. The addition of Freddie Hubbard to what is basically Miles Quintet, including Davis’ saxophonist of the time George Coleman.
I needed reminding that the tenor is not Wayne Shorter, but George Coleman, playing probably at his best here. Shorter’s trademark downbeat tone, pungently stretching out became the perfect foil for Hancock’s modal colourings and probing chords and , but Coleman excels himself as the perfect offset to Hubbard ‘s burnished tone in the portentous opening song lines of this visionary work.
Despite everyone’s familiarity with the iconic title track and its opening chords, it is Dolphin’s Dance which for me is the sublime track, but they are all good.
Vinyl: Blue Note BN 4195
Mono original pressing, ear and VAN GELDER stamps
Liner Notes (attributed to one “Nora Kelly”)
Opinions differ whether this over-wrought prose adds fittingly to a “concept album”, or is high class b.s. which wastes the opportunity for informative biographical and musical notes to complement critical listening. I guess I may have given away my position. You decide for yourself.
This has taken a long time – four or five years – to track down, a mono copy in (almost) excellent condition. Not that they appeared often but when they did, someone would spirit it away with an XXL bid. I lost count of the number of times I found myself second place price setter. The Tokyo Disc Union buyers are the main suspects. It nearly happened again, but for once the cards fell differently. There was only one other bidder – and from the anonymised Ebay bidder code, u***i – I’ll give you a clue. Very competitive, and according to their change in score total over six months, I calculate buys a record every three days.
What put off other bidders? Perhaps it was that crossed out previous owners name on the rear cover, or the seller’s redundant disclaimer that it wasn’t him that had done it, as though it mattered who.
It brings to five* my Hancock Blue Note originals (1962-5), I think the complete set, all mono:
My Point of View
Inventions and Dimensions
(*excluding The Prisoner, which escapes me, and falls out of scope)
Taking Liberties: Same selection, later Division of Liberty, stereo:
Dolphin Dance (stereo later Liberty)
I have no overall preference between mono and stereo, it all depends on the music. For several years the best copy of Maiden Voyage I could get was a stereo later Liberty, and I thought I was doing well to have that. For reasons I was unable to pin down, I felt little enthusiasm for playing it. Immediately on hearing the original mono, everything changed
As soon as the needle drops, the mono has you solidly focussed on the music. Williams cymbal-washes rise up out of the hanging brass harmonies and percussive colourings. It is thrilling, as it should be. In contrast, the stereo immediately sends you location information. Williams is on the right, detatched from what’s happening at other points of the compass, undermining the cohesion of the ensemble. Information about room placement sits between you and the music, it doesn’t support or enhance it .
There was no doubt in my mind that the stereo didn’t engage me in the way the original mono does. It doesn’t help that Liberty seems to lacks the visceral punch of Plastylite. I’d have to hear the stereo original to judge it more confidently but we are in confirmation bias territory. The Liberty is not an early NY/Liberty, it is a dark blue/ yellowy later label, indicative of the Transamerica period, which often turn out a weaker presentation.
New-found enthusiasm for this pinnacle of Hancock’s Blue Note works, due to vinyl pressing and presentation. Who’d have thought it?