Track selection: The Maze (Hancock)
As I discovered on a recent visit to the Hampton Court Maze, grandchildren in tow, the way out of a maze can be as hard to find as the centre. Twenty minutes of fruitless search and blind alleys induced a growing sense of panic – sod the centre, the grandchildren can find their own way, Get Me Out of Here! Put me down as a Bad Santa.
Hancock’s Maze, however, is a much more uplifting experience, an expansive minor-keyed piece in which the point is the movement, around “the maze”, and not a conventional narrative of beginning, middle and end. Though peppered with solos throughout it has a refreshing lack of structure and freedom of movement.
Hancock’s forceful percussive comping dominates throughout. Hubbards bright pure tone and Dexter Gordon’s muscular but measured pace all mesh well with the Herbies quicksilver palette, while Billy Higgins bash and splash adds great energy and vitality to the performance. As always the unsung hero is on bass, Butch Warren, keeps everything on the ground. A-mazing!
Freddie Hubbard (t, flugelhorn) Dexter Gordon (ts) Herbie Hancock (p) Butch Warren (b) Billy Higgins (d) recorded Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, May 28, 1962
Takin’ Off was Hancock’s debut album for Blue Note, a typical hard bop outing with its characteristic two horns and a rhythm section. Home to the bluesy “Watermelon Man” which made it to the Top 100 of the pop charts, resulting in over-familiarity with the tune, however it sounds as fresh and lively as yesterday pounding from the Blue Note original vinyl, and reawakened my enthusiasm for the tune. Vinyl does that.
I prefer this acoustic piano bopping Hancock to the frizzy-haired funky evil twin who finally managed to escape from the attic in the 1970’s. However this will no doubt invoke howls of protest from the funk-lovers so let me say they are all better than Herbies’ most recent and ghastly Imagine Project. Oh oh! Help! Here come the World Love and Peace fans, and they are screaming for my blood!
Vinyl: BLP 4109 mono, Ear, Van Gelder, a healthy 185 gm.
Interesting that Van Gelder decided to cut a second master for both sides, indicated by the suffix -1 to the catalogue number. I used to assume that a second master was a bad sign – less original – but of course it may signify van Gelder thinking Hey, that’s not good enough, I can do better than that, I’ll cut it again. Or may be he just spilled the coffee. The true explanation is often the more mundane.
“HERBIE HANCOCK MONO BLUE NOTE ORIGINAL VINYL LP BNLP4109
VAN GELDER & EAR IN THE DEADWAX 43 WEST 61STNEW YORK 23
New York USA on the labels. HAS DEEP GROOVE ONE SIDE
VINYL – Has a wonderful sheen, and looks like it was made yesterday. I just played this on my Linn LP12 with Dynavector cartridge and it sounds as close to Mint as you will get. This has been very well looked after and played maybe a handful of times at best. Has a few sleeve marks which don’t affect play, also what looks like a scratch on side 2 track 2 but it plays through it without any noise whatsoever. Visually I’d grade this as EX- (VG+) but it sounds EX+ (M-)
SLEEVE – Heavy Duty Blue Note sleeve with paste on back cover. labelled 43 West 61st St New York 23. In wonderful condition as shown by the pictures. No ring wear / Superb lustre on the front cover. paste on cover on back in great condition with only the merest hint of ring mark. 1cm long red pen line near opening, because of this I’m grading it EXCELLENT as opposed to EX+
YOU WILL STRUGGLE TO FIND A BETTER COPY THAN THIS. TRULY WONDERFUL COPY OF A WONDERFUL ALBUM. WILL PACKAGE IN DOUBLE CARD SANDWICH AND HEAVY CARD OUTER PACKAGING.”
What else can I say that hasn’t already been said? At great length. “EX instead of EX+ – as close to mint as you can get”. Eh? Hype, it’s been played quite a few times, it’s nowhere near mint, it’s somewhere between VG positive and EX negative, and there isn’t a lot of them around either. It’s GE – Good Enough
While we are on about the subject of abbreviations, like all Blue Note originals, the grading “EX” really just means EXpensive! More important, like all Blue Note “originals” it sounds just right.
UPDATE August 6, 2016
Album photography updated to current standard – the album deserved better, what I know how to do, replacing those from 2013. Super-crisp readable liner notes, natural real-world colours, paper-white “invisible” background. However, same dreary old text.