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