Herbie Hancock Takin’Off (1962) Blue Note


Track selection: The Maze (Hancock)

maze-circular-greenAs 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.

LJC perfectoHancock’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

Chronology:Takin’ Off  (1963); My Point of View (1963); Inventions and Dimensions (1963); Empyrean Isles (1964); Maiden Voyage (1965)


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.



Collectors Corner

Source: Ebay
Sellers Description:

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+

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.


22 thoughts on “Herbie Hancock Takin’Off (1962) Blue Note

  1. Hi Everyone (3 years later),

    For the last two years I’ve been on a quest to get an “OG” mono version of this. Of all the Blue Notes I’ve been after, this is the tops for me. I’ve been listening to it for 25 years and it has so much to offer. I just noticed that Rich mentioned that his Plastylite copy has groove distortion on Alone and I, the last track on side 2. In my ill-fated quest, I ‘ve now listened to FIVE mono copies (4 with ear, 1 a “New York Liberty”), and they all have really bad groove distortion on this beautiful, beautiful track. Along with Rich’s comment, and the fact that most of the copies I’ve listened to looked to be in great shape, I’m of the mind that this problem on Alone and I exists on all mono copies and is an intrinsic feature of this pressing. I should add that this distortion showed up reliably when using my stereo cartridge (Sumiko Pearl). The good news is that I recently got a mono cartridge (Ortofon) and this basically takes care of the problem (I don’t have a mono switch). I had a $100 Grado mono cart before that and that helped too, but not to the extent of the Ortofon. I wonder if a better stereo cart would also solve this problem. But it seems very odd to me that this defect appears to be universal to 4109. I do have maybe ~10 other mono Blue Notes and none of them have this kind of problem. Maybe Rudy had a bad day (hence all the -1 stuff earlier on this thread).

    This album means so much to me. It helped to wean me on to jazz and hard bop starting 25 years ago, and never gets tiresome. I think this is because the compositions are so unique and Herbie’s playing is so sophisticated and original on this 1962 date. I also feel that there is a wonderful balance struck because it’s Herbie’s album (piano), and so Freddie and Dexter (horns) both keep things in check, and then you have the experience of Dexter contrasting with the fresh energy of Herbie and Freddie. It doesn’t have Freddie and Dexter’s most spectacular playing, but this also lets the compositions (and Herbie!) shine, which alternate between accessible and harmonically more interesing/challening. This music seriously grows on you, and I suggest listening to it a few times and then break for a while – maybe a few months – before a few more listens.

    ….too bad about that groove distortion on the last track. 😦

    For those of us interested in this record, it would be good to know if anyone has a mono copy without groove distortion (using a stereo cart and not a super-turbo hi-fi setup).

    Liked by 1 person

    • I also love this album! I had an original mono that didn’t sound that great but I attributed it to the fact it was in pretty rough shape. In my search for a replacement I found a nice Van Gelder cut Liberty stereo copy and since this was of the era where the mono was made from folding-in the channels of the stereo tape, I thought it a safe bet. Great sounding (I’m listening to it as I write) and zero groove distortion on Alone And I.


      • I actually have two stereo copies, a UA (blue label, black “b”) and a 45 rpm music matters. In my opinion, the UA easily beats out the MM – clearer, more air, more dynamic and exciting, as LJC would say. It sounds fantastic in stereo, and….no groove distortion on Alone and I. This is not my normal behavior with records to have so many, but Takin’ Off has done this to me and it’s fun to compare pressings. I’ve also found that I really love those blue label UAs on the whole (black or white “b”), even though they don’t rate high with LJC. They are tremendous bargains as far as I’m concerned. Anyway, bottom line: stereo is the safe way to go for this record unless you have a mono cartridge (or perhaps a mono button will do the same).


  2. LJC,

    Great score! I have a copy of this, and though it only weighs 155 grams, it has deep grooves on both sides, hmmm…I have many reasons to suspect that your copy is of greater vintage than mine. I’m not going to debate what I’m about to say with anyone here (*coughbobdjukiccough* 😉 but at the very least, the evidence indicates that the presence or absence of deep grooves for titles released after May 1961 cannot be used to indicate the vintage of a copy.

    Anyway, the audio clip sounds pretty darn quiet, congratulations! (You gotta starting doing your audio clips in mono if the record’s mono 😉 My copy has significant distortion from groove wear on “Alone and I” =/

    And I hear what you’re saying about the infamous “Ex” rating. Regarding “minus” ratings like “Ex-” and “NM-” for example, my experience has shown that this usually means the seller is using illusory tactics to make things sound better than they really are. In my experience NM- means low-end VG++ or strong VG+ and Ex- (pretty much “VG++-” haha), really means VG+.


  3. On the cutting of second lacquers. Sometimes it’s because the first cut just isn’t good enough. The test pressing turns up, it’s placed onto the deck and as the music leaves the speaker the engineer, producer or artist decides that what they are hearing isn’t a good representation of what is on the tape. So a second cut is immediately done.
    A second cut will almost never be a sign of a loss of fidelity. It is still exactly the same number of times removed from the original source, and 1960s tapes don’t deteriorate especially quickly. For example there is no reason for a 1970s UA cut to sound worse than a 1960s Van Gelder that can be put down to the master tape or ‘originality’. Rather it will be down to the attention of the cutting engineer or the quality of the pressing.
    I hope this makes sense, I’m often a bit rambling in descriptions like this.


    • Interesting approach of the second lacquer question. I, always reckon(ed) that the “-1” suffix simply stands for a second lacquer, made to create new stampers after the first stampers had worn out during the pressing process.

      But if I follow you, then, for instance, “BLP-4109-A” means: “first lacquer cut for the a-side” and “BLP-4109-A-1” means: “second lacquer cut for the a-side, since the test pressings made from stampers off the first lacquer didn’t sound good”. Right?

      At the same time this would mean that there are actual vintage Blue Note test pressings ‘out there’, but then I wonder how come they never show up, you know, like white label Blue Note test pressings with hand written titles on ’em… Interesting thing to elaborate on.


      • A couple of years back some test pressings did turn up on Ebay. I think they are on Popsike somewhere.
        In my experience record labels go for as few test pressings as the manufacturer allows. Often between 5 & 10. Not sure what the deal was back in the 60s.
        I’ve never had to cut a second lacquer make new stampers. I think the number of stampers you can make from the each one is sufficient for all but the biggest selling albums. I don’t think any Blue Note album would have sold enough in the 60s to warrant this.


      • Mattyman,

        You’re right: no -1 means first lacquer *attempted* and -1 means second, but the key word here is ‘attempted’. There’s no way to know whether or not Van Gelder even got through the entire cutting of the first lacquer if it was never used, and even if he did, the evidence indicates that it was never used to press vinyl…

        My theory is that in the instances where there is a -1 (for Van Gelder), the laquer without the -1 was never sent to the pressing plant. I have been involved with a post on here discussing this with respect to BLP 1539 (https://londonjazzcollector.wordpress.com/2012/12/02/horace-silver-six-pieces-of-silver-1956-lexington/). A handful of parties were involved and no one had a copy without a -1 (I had two at the time actually). Regarding this title, BLP 4109, I have a copy of this also and there is indeed a -1 on side 2 (my copy is non-deep groove and weighs less so I think it’s interesting to note that the master lacquer is still the same even though my copy was probably pressed at a later time). My final example was that I had two copies of BLP 4079 at one point and again both had a -1.


        • AHA! Yes, of course, the 1539 run out debate that we had! You may have noticed the contributed extra trail off photos that were taken from my own copy of 1539 in order to compare them to LJC’s pressing.

          But your and Dean’s explanation makes sense and I’m sure that the handful of Blue Note pressings that I have WITH a “-1” will feature that “-1” in all other (earlier and later) pressings, just as is the case with your copies of 4079 and 4109.

          See? Commenting to and fro with each other always leads to more insight! 😀


    • Hi Dean,

      I get what you’re saying about the theory of tape degeneration. I never really bought into the whole, “Oh no! The tape’s a day older for this mastering! I NEED the original!” argument. But I wouldn’t go as far as you are here in saying “a second cut will almost never be a sign of a loss of fidelity”, and “there is no reason for a 1970s UA cut to sound worse than a 1960s Van Gelder”. Your surrounding points balance things out a little but in and of themselves, I hope you don’t mind me saying that I think you’re overgeneralizing.


      • No problem. Though I really don’t think I’m over generalising in this case. Of course the tape can be the issue for the sound variations, but more often than not 1960s tape stock holds up well down through the years. They are hardly ever played, so don’t really deteriorate. I think the reason for the issue with 70s UA issues is that the cuts will have been being done quickly and without the level of care that would have been taken on a new release.

        I think its worth comparing the double albums of new material that UA released and the quality of the cuts on those – overseen by Michael Cuscunna – and their vast reissuing of original Blue Note titles, which have highly variable sound quality.

        Felix I’ll pop over to that discussion and see if there is anything I can add.


        • Interesting thread. Thanks guys. I have a question that you may be able to answer. I was under the impression that the ear always indicated a first pressing (mono or stereo). Is this not the case?


          • Hi Dave,

            If you define “first pressing” roughly as the first initial round of releases of a particular title, no, the “ear” (Plastylite “P”) does not guarantee that you are getting a “first pressing”. For example, “Blue Train” was released with many label configurations (W63/NY23, W63 no “R”, W63 with “R”, and NYUSA), all including the “P”. Though it is not known with certainty whether or not copies with the W63/NY23 label were definitely pressed and released BEFORE those with W63 on both sides (this is kind of beside the point), copies with W63 and the “R”, and copies with NYUSA on both labels were definitely released after 1957 (and before 1966) but they still have the “P” in the dead wax.

            Long story short, the “P” guarantees that your Blue Note LP is the handiwork of Rudy Van Gelder and that it was pressed roughly between 1955 and 1966 (though many titles without the “P” released after 1966 are his working as well), but it doesn’t always guarantee that you are getting a “first pressing”.


          • DGmono is right – The Plastylite cursive P indicates an “original Blue Note” ie pressed before the sale of Blue Note Records Inc to LibertyRecords in 1966. The place of any record in the pressing history of that title requires many corroborating details, and you would be recommended to consider investing in Fred Cohen’s Guide to Blue Note First Pressings.
            Be warned: this can all end in tears. There are not as many first pressings around as people who think theirs is a first pressing. Second and subsequent pressing Blue Note originals are sonically often indistinguishable and much better value. However collector-lust can be fearsome strong once it takes hold


  4. From studious, ambitious young hard bopper through fizzy haired electronic funkster to grand old man of shopping mall muzac and wealthy festival veteran. Sounds like a Phd waiting to be written.


    • This morning I have just taken delivery of a lovely mono copy of this record: DG Side 2, Plastylite Ps, VAN GELDER stamps and “-1” suffix on the matrix numbers. Sadly, I only had time for a quick once through listen to check overall condition because I’m off on holiday today. When I get back, I’ll report more thoroughly about possible presence/absence of groove distortion on “Alone and I”.


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