Herbie Hancock Trio (1977) CBS/Sony Japan

 

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Selection: Speak Like a Child (1977) 320 kbps MP3 (warning – long, but nice)

Artists

Herbie Hancock (piano) Ron Carter (bass) Tony Williams (drums) recorded & mixed at the Automatt studios , San Francisco, July 13, 1977, engineer Fred Catero, technical assistance Kevin Ayres (Soft Machine)

Music

On the heels of Headhunters and Deathwish, still to follow, Monster, Future Shock, down hill all the way to the glutinous “Imagine Project” (2010), this is V.S.O.P (Very Special Old Pale) Very Special One-time-only Performance – an “acoustic” trio outing studio-recorded in San Francisco but destined for record release only to Japan’s more hardcore  jazz fans. Ron Carter is pictured  with acoustic bass but from time to time sounds electric, tonally more squidgy than dry, but exquisite in the performance. (Help me out – that is an electric bass, yes?)  Williams subtle fireworks maintain the flow interest. This trio outing is a welcome late-flowering last glimpse of three fine musicians from the great Davis second quintet, before Hancock finally sank in the funk.

VSOP

Tempest-in-the-colosseum-front-1800-LJCVSOP was conceived as a stadium concert band, a mutant child of the economics of  audience size and possibilities created by electronic amplification. One of my innocent early record purchases was the VSOP Quintet “Tempest in the Colosseum” Den-En Tokyo stadium concert (recorded ten days after the Trio session, July 23, 1977), pictured left and below, which defied all expectations – badly

VSOP concert Japan 1800 LJC

Listening  again to Tempest the other day I was struck how awful it sounds, playing stilted, instruments pumped through unsympathetic microphones and amplification, combined with CBS’s horrid pressing. Still, I have no doubt the audience will have been thrilled by the live experience, as no doubt I would, had I been there.

Vinyl: Herbie Hancock Trio CBS/Sony 25AP 650  Japan -only  (1977)

Late ’70’s and vinyl presentation has started to sound quite different to previous decades, more “processed”,  not like the vintage vinyl, I presume to changes in the recording and engineering technology. Kevin Ayres (Soft Machine) helping out in the studio, as far as I can detect perhaps fetching the coffee and donuts.

Great ’70’s cover featuring solarised colour photography, one of the array of special effects of its time, a decade before the launch of the ubiquitous Photoshop and digital manipulation.

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Herbie-Hancock-Trio-Japan-1977-insert-fr-and-bk--1800-LJC

Herbie-Hancock-Trio-Japan-1977-rearcover-1800-LJC

Collector’s Corner

Just like LJC to sneak up on you with a surprise: the original version of Speak Like a Child. Decide for yourself what a decade of fusion and funk has done to the way Hancock now interprets the title track. Taken from a United Artists UK pressing in the absence of an original in my collection – the point is not comparing  pressing, which is pretty lacklustre, (British Blue Note blue label UA pressings are a really poor in comparison to US blue label, which is saying something), but musical interpretation and style.

Herbie-Hancock-Speak-Like-a-Child-UK-BN-cover-1800-LJC

Selection: Speak Like a Child (1968) 320kbps MP3

In addition to the rhythm section – Hancock, Carter and drummer Mickey Roker – three horns round out the sound: Thad Jones (flugelhorn), Peter Phillips (bass trombone) and Jerry Dodgion (alto flute). They’re mostly used for tone and shading with no solo space. An altogether mellow listening experience.

Vinyl: United Artists  UK reissue (1977), looks like EMI pressing.

Herbie-Hancock-Speak-Like-a-Child-UK-BN-labels--1800-LJC

Herbie-Hancock-Speak-Like-a-Child-UK-BN-back-cover-1800-LJC

ljc-thinks-some-more-Big-SpecsLJC thinks: Not to begrudge any musician the right to a living, or to follow his musical heart wherever it leads him, or aspire to chart hits, or to bounce around on stage in a crimson shell-suit, but I have to part company with Hancock at his move to electric piano. And who at the time could have known that the fashion for large spectacle frames would fall so far?

Fast forwarding to the 21st Century finds Hancock recording with Christine Aguillera, Annie Lennox, Sting, Carlos Santana, Seal, Pink, and Chaka Kahn, none of whom sad to say I give tuppence for. Hey, this is the genre-defying genre!   It turns out being “genre-defying” becomes just another genre of its own. Richard Cook’s wrote of Hancock’s  electric funk fusion phase that it caught him between two musical waves –

“too young for bebop, and too old for hiphop”

What do you think? What do you make of Hancock’s career trajectory? Are there some Rockit fans out there? Have your say.

 

 

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19 thoughts on “Herbie Hancock Trio (1977) CBS/Sony Japan

  1. I was raised on straight ahead, but I agree with another commenter that Headhunters, particularly the lineup including drummer Mike Clark, is pretty outstanding. The improvisations in “Actual Proof” are almost as good as anything Herbie ever did, he’s just doing it on electric piano and sometimes, Clavinet or synth.

  2. NB: future2 future is the right title of herbie’s electronic 2K album.
    i won’t swear i have all herbie’s records but PLENTY of them, covering all periods. except for the miles & blue note era we all love here, i think he really found his voice – in a less polite way if i may say so – in electronics and with the fender rhodes especially. when you quoted ” too young for bebop and to old for hip hop” it’s definitely true. but the spiritual funk he elaborated in the 70’s with electronics is to me his real achievement, the right guy at the right moment. he’s probably the greatest on the fender rhodes instrument and clearly defined its esthetics. his experimentations with synthesizers really opened new horizons (for better or worse) and his headhunters combo with paul jackson, eddie henderson and bennie maupin is the real deal if you’re into this kind of funky/spiritual grooves. i know it’s not the music we share here but that’s where herbie really shines.

  3. All Herbie’s Blue Note recs are worth listening to, it goes without saying the earlier version is vastly superior to the CBS cut. Had the misfortune to see Herbie live a few years ago, not a particularly enjoyable experience, featuring a certain Gregoire Maret on harmonica and massive self importance.

  4. Hmm, while I very much like the original SPEAK LIKE A CHILD, this trio version doesn’t seem to bring anything all that fresh to the table, elegant and beautifully played as it is. As regards HH’s electric period, I think I only have three — Sextant (or perhaps Crossings – I get them mixed up); Mwandishi, and Fat Albert Rotunda. And oddly, of these, the one I play with the greatest enjoyment – albeit not very often – is Fat Albert.

  5. hi to herbie’s fans! to hcalland, as much as i love miles and worship his genius, his 80’s comeback didn’t add much to its heritage xcept reuniting some “dream team” combos- and we loved it – one of miles’ greatest talents being always choosing the right cats to perform.
    polite maybe. i like in your face and polite, too. one of my fave HH chorus is on miles’ “my funny valentine”; just a few notes, a few ideas – that entered my mind for 40 years now

    • Hi thebeathunters –

      Like your comments. I love HH touch on the ivory, but I only own a few of his releases as a leader, Headhunter being one. Also in my library is everybody’s favorite, Maiden Voyage, Takin’ Off, the first VSOP, and Empyrean Isles. That’s it. I have wanted to add more of Herbie’s LPs as a leader, but I have not found anything I wanted yet. I am going to check out eBay for a vinyl copy of “Speak Like a Child” now that I have been introduced to it by LJC; Thanks LJC.

      I really like Riot, First Trip and Toys, but don’t care as much for the title cut “Speak Like a Child.” It has a little to much of that smooth jazz thang goin’ on for my taste.

      One question for the group – – – – Has Ron Carter every plucked the strings of an electric bass on recorded and distributed music? I think Ron would look strange with an Fender electric bass in his arms. . . makes me cringe to think about it.

      • [In reference to the Ron Carter question] I believe he did for later CTI albums. He had a couple LPs in his name (not really things I’ve spent time with – they’re, uhh, pretty ’70s) but also played to great effect in Hubbard’s bands. Rarely, I think he did in fact pick up an electric along with the rest of the group – but I could be wrong.
        That’s the era I’d look in if I was trying to hear it, though.

        • When you absolutely have to have a definite answer to that nagging and unanswered question, accept no substitute, consult the Wikipedia. “Although he played electric bass occasionally during this period [the 70’s], he has subsequently eschewed that instrument entirely, and now plays only acoustic bass.”

        • Here’s an extract from a 2008 interview with Ron Carter:
          “During the ‘70s, you were known to play electric bass on occasion. What made you pick up the instrument?”
          “It’s been about 30 years since I played one. I remember having to buy one—a Danelectro—because the studios were making demands on upright players to have that instrument in their hands so the producer could have another choice of sounds. The electric bass was new to me and I simply picked the lightest-weight bass that I could carry around with my upright. I wasn’t forced to play electric bass but I wanted to work as necessary during that period.”
          So I think we are on safe ground saying that it has never been Ron’s ultimate goal to go down in history as an electric bass player.

          • Yes, agreed. Wikipedia says he started out on Cello. I don’t know what his thoughts are, but I’am glad he switched to the upright. Even before I understood what I was listening to, he always struck me as a cerebral master of his craft.

            • Ron Carter’s debut album, “Where?” features him on cello. Fantastic date with Dolphy, Waldron, and George Duvivier, who picks up the slack on bass.

  6. I think that “Headhunters” is one of the most forward thinking Jazz albums of all time, but hey, my vantage point into Jazz music was backwards via the “fusion” and jazz-rock” thoroughfares. The genre has always needed changes, and no matter where you examine its evolution, these changes were either hated or heralded. There’s always going to be critics who won’t budge on what they think is ‘pure’.

    Unlike what happened to characters within the Free movement a decade earlier — I think that the success of Herbie’s move to electric pianos and Moogs was less a case of “the emperor’s new clothes” than actual artistic expression that WORKED. Similar to players like Coltrane or Davis, I feel that Herbie’s trajectory is the result of an artist who mastered his realm and produced one of the most consistent & outstanding catalogues of the ’60s, and simply had no where to go but up (with “up” obviously being subjective).

  7. Herbie learned his lesson of “keeping up with the times” from his mentor Mr. Miles Davis; who himself morphed so many times it was hard for us mere mortals to keep up. Herbie just did not have the insight or sheer meanness that made Miles such an interesting and egimatic musician. And what I mean by meanness is “Miles refused to be defined by anyone.” Miles’ music was a reflection of who he was as a person; mean and defiant. Herbie’s post jazz music was polite and conforming, like him. Now that I think about it, most of Herbie’s approach to the piano and melody was polite. Definately not in your face.

  8. I think Hancock worked the fusion thing for all it was worth at first. The Mwandishi and Headhunters eras were high points both for that genre and in HH’s career, IMO.

    After “Secrets”, perhaps during it, his electric stuff started to get tired and eventually descended into self-parody. I enjoy VSOP and all of his subsequent returns to acoustic jazz though.

  9. well, hard for me to diss herbie as i consider he’s probably one of the greatest musicians alive and one of the very few who succeeded – whether we liked it or not – to keep in touch with the musical scenes of his time thru various reincarnations.
    of course we can view this as “commercial opportunism” but he actually brought more than his share to the banquet.
    it sure sounded weird to jump from the blue note years to his disco infected grooves but he built it brilliantly, from funk-jazz to fusion trips. his disco albums were really top-notch productions, featured a few dancefloor classics – vocoder included – and they always had an extra jazz flavor that put him above most 4-to-the floor funkateers.

    the future shock/breakbeat era, with bill laswell and material’s usual suspects was pure genius and right on time! his world/african music experiments were probably the weakest but kept him scanning most of the 80/90s musical trends. his latest attempt to keep it real – Future now – was pretty good too, for 2K electro jazz standards.

    then, during all these mutations, he always kept in touch with his miles’ buddies to give the jazzheads – especially japanese ones – the repertoire they craved for.
    among these sessions, this lp is among the best ones.
    i agree that his latest starbucks efforts don’t match his genius – except the river/joni letters which is a wonderful album, almost a classic to me (but i’m a huge joni fan). if you don’t know it here’s a another great nippon moment from 87, with bobby H.

  10. I really like the early 70’s stuff. Crossings and Mwandishi are great if you enjoyed Bitches Brew. I love Death Wish as a soundtrack album and Headhunters is a jazz/funk classic. Somewhere in the mid-70’s it goes downhill though, but you have to admire an artist for trying to change with the times.
    One record I would recommend is the Japanese release ‘Directions’. One side is some way ahead of its time electronic/techno music, which most readers of this blog would likely not be interested in. The other side however, features gorgeous solo piano versions of Maiden Voyage and Dolphin Dance. Beautiful stuff and sounds great as well.
    Completely off topic- but I happen to be listening to it right now- Walter Bishop Jr.’s Coral Keys on Black Jazz is fantastic.

  11. i LOVE “headhunters”, “thrust”, “sextant”, etc. they are basically long extended rock jams with a super jazzy feel and wonderful improvising in their own way. but hancock after that became merely a pop producer to me. lots of whispy effects, lots of attempts at moneymaking. and he can do what he wants, but all the sugar and sweetness from the guy who made all those jarring synth noises on “chameleon” just breaks my heart.

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