Selection: The Prisoner
Johnny Coles (flugelhorn) Garnett Brown (trombone) Tony Studd (bass trombone) Hubert Laws (flute) Jerome Richardson (bass clarinet) Joe Henderson (tenor saxophone, alto flute) Herbie Hancock (piano, electric piano) Buster Williams (bass) Albert Heath (drums) recorded Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, April 18-23, 1969
This isn’t especially a “Hancock album” in the mould of his earlier Blue Note work – his presence is more low-key, cast in a different role: supporting the ensemble who deliver the performance. It’s like he done the Miles Davis 2nd Quintet thing, looking around for the next direction, taking on composer arranger organiser enabler big group work, trying it for size, before deciding instead to slip into a shell-suit, climb on board the fusion and funk wagon and order ever-larger pairs of glasses. The Prisoner is effectively his last jazz album, but what an album.
The title tracks and liner notes tie this work into the struggles of black America emerging from early ’60s, an extended metaphor of The Prisoner, rising from MLK’s “I have Dream” to the “Promise of the Sun“. Whereas Max Roach employed a vocalist to speak the overtly political message, not to belittle the politics, this is a work of great musical craftsmanship. Hancock combines careful scoring and arranging of his nonet with free-flowing soloists.
Henderson especially contributes a bravura performance, on fire, angry and rasping to theme. It’s also one for the sound engineers, apparently this session is noted for RVG’s use of reverb on Coles’ flugelhorn and Henderson’s tenor. Can’t disassemble sound for myself, EMT plate! EMT plate! (or whatever) The sound just goes straight into the ears and the brain nods “sounds good!”
I checked Hancock’s latest musical celebrity antics – “Herbie Hancock and Snoop Dogg to feature on album” – just when you think it couldn’t get any worse, “Herbie Hancock named Professor of Poetry at Harvard University” . He’s just enjoying himself, while he can, he’s earned it, and why not. The great years are available for all time on record. I can still enjoy myself too, with a “new” old Hancock album.
Thanks to everyone who pointed me at it.
Vinyl: BST 84279 Division of Liberty
In the past, I haven’t had a very high opinion of late-Liberty releases, the Transamerica period, but this 1969 pressing is generally excellent, as befits a van Gelder recording and mastering and stereo RVG to boot. It is possibly a little soft at the top-end compared with Blue Note/ Plastylite sound, but it is difficult to know who or what to attribute that to, and unless you habitually listen to bright early ’60 Blue Note you probably wouldn’t be aware of the comparison.
LJC confesses: What a dunce. I didn’t know. I thought “The Prisoner” was a movie soundtrack. And hot on the heels of his soundtrack to the film “Blow Up”. It sure looks like a movie soundtrack judged by the cover. Herbie is not playing, he’s “posing” like a movie character.
It’s a nonet . That’s only a couple of players short of a Big Band, which (aside from Francy Boland) I am generally not keen on. I never looked at the line-up in detail. Joe Henderson! Recorded by RVG! These signals were overlooked.
Hancock is credited with “electric piano” as well as acoustic. I dislike electric piano and electric bass – give me acoustic every time. It’s got Laws on flute – I dislike “flute”, for the most part (Herbie Mann!).
It’s a very late Liberty, 1969, a time when many thing were just making a “turn for the worse”…on the cusp of Mwandishi. Just so many signals saying “avoid!”.
I don’t mind admitting, I was completely and totally wrong. There I’ve said it. You can all feel a little smug. It’s great. It’s not been off the turntable for the last few days. Brilliant album, a worthy companion to Hancock’s Blue Notes indeed.
And not at all expensive as a largely “overlooked” Hancock compared with his mid-’60s Blue Note works. I had to resort to Discogs sellers, which was actually not an unpleasant experience either, sidestepping the nail-biting auction process.
A lot of lessons learned, but I still think I’ll draw a line under Herbie at 1969. The afro wig and platforms will have to stay under the bed for now, but who knows what you might like tomorrow?