HERBIE HANCOCK / “Mimosa”
Maiden Voyage is far better-known, but my favorite early Herbie Hancock album is Inventions And Dimensions. It’s essentially a piano-led trio album, but in this case, Herbie tweaks the traditional formula by using both a drummer, Willie Bobo (drums and timbales), and a percussionist, Osvaldo ‘Chihuahua’ Martinez (congas, bongos, guiro and finger cymbals). The bass player, by the way, is Paul ‘Mr. P.C.’ Chambers. If you listen to a lot of mid-Sixties Miles Davis, like I do, you might think of Herbie Hancock as a great accompanist, but not necessarily as a band leader or great soloist. Until I heard Inventions And Dimensions, I thought of Herbie that way myself. The legendary Maiden Voyage and Headhunters albums notwithstanding, I never really thought of Herbie Hancock as a solo artist. But take a listen to the piano work on “Jack Rabbit,” “Succotash” or “Mimosa”—it’s Herbie’s show all the way. At the ripe old age of twenty-three, Herbie was the composer, the band leader, the lead voice and the soloist for all five tunes from this, his third album. (Although it’s probably not accurate to say ‘composed.’ According to the liner notes, all five of these tunes were improvised in the studio using very basic chord sketches.) “Jack Rabbit” is probably the most exciting tune on the album—Herbie’s blocky, rapid-fire solo segues straight into Chihuahua Martinez’ conga break. “Succotash” has to be the best composition. Paul Chamber’s bassline has the feel of those great early-Seventies Pharoah Sanders records, there’s that scratching, quasi-samba rhythm from Bobo and Chihuahua, and of course, there’s Herbie’s wonderful piano lines—which start off sounding like the soundtrack to an old Hitchcock movie before dissolving into something as breezy and cool as an early morning breeze. But my favorite cut of all is “Mimosa.” The mood is decidedly more mellow than the rest of the album. Herbie takes full advantage of the slower pace, laying deep in the pocket, swinging harder and playing more developed solos than on the other pieces. One of the best things about the album as a whole is, although it’s ostensibly a ‘Latin Jazz’ record, it avoids the usual clichés of the sub-genre, never falling into an obvious shtick. Bobo and Chihuahua’s percussion work is subtle, but still effective. They do enough to remind you that you’re hearing something different than you’re used to, but not enough to make you feel like it’s a novelty. Perhaps the best praise I can give Inventions And Dimensions is that it’s more than forty years old and still sounds both fresh and original. —Mtume ya Salaam Good, si. Classic, no. This is good work from Mr. Hancock, but I hardly hear it as classic. Strictly within a jazz context this work is more derivative than classic, more a wrinkle than an important stylistic cut. In fact, it’s easy-listening charm not withstanding, this is one of the lesser Hancock Blue Note documents. Mtume, your selection of these tracks inspires two responses. One is context and the other is a closer examination of Herbie. In terms of context, there is a direct line that could be drawn from Nat 'King' Cole adding bongos to his classic trio and mining Latin-esque grooves, to Ahmad Jamal in both his early piano/guitar/bass trio formations into his standard trio format that featured New Orleans drummer Vernell Fournier (and years later, New Orleans drummer Herlin Riley, who is Wynton’s favorite drummer). The Jamal connection is particularly important in terms of the Miles Davis. Miles famously cited Ahmad Jamal as a major influence. If you think about it, from Red Garland’s block chords to Herbie’s harmonic sophistication, stylistically there is a strong, strong Jamal influence on Miles and on Hancock. The Jamal influence is recognizable in Herbie’s use of space and harmonics. (Damn—I just thought of another obvious but not immediately apparent connection: Chicago!) Of course, Hancock is far, far more than merely a Jamal clone or camp follower. Which brings me to the closer examination of Hancock. Musically, he had three major early periods which not surprisingly are mirrored in his tenures at three major labels. The first period is the Blue Note days (Maiden Voyage). This material is from that period. The second was his most experimental in jazz terms and that was his Warner Bros. period, also known as the Mwandishi period. Than there was his pop and non-jazz period which corresponds to his tenure at Columbia (Head Hunters / "Rockit"). I do not mean these as clear cut lines of demarcation. Moving into the future does not mean forgetting one’s past; for example the VSOP quintet was a direct manifestation and further exploration of Maiden Voyage but came during the Columbia tenure. Nevertheless, I do mean that each period was characterized by an instantly identifiable "sound." Which all is to say, BoL is not about to run out of material any time soon. Just as Mtume promised to revisit Susana Baca, I promise to revisit Herbie Hancock. His body of work deserves a closer examination. Meanwhile, I’ll drop a Jamal track in the mix so you can see the Hancock connection. (I mean “hear.” It’s just that in jazz terms, hearing is seeing, both as understanding and as desiring, as in to have “eyes for….” So if I said Mtume has eyes for Hancock’s piano work, I would mean he likes to listen to it.) The track is Ahmad Jamal’s interpretation of “Dolphin Dance,” a cut from Hancock’s truly classic Maiden Voyage release. “Dolphin Dance” features Jamil Nasser on bass and Frank Gant on drums, and is available on Ahmad’s The Awakening album. To be continued…. —Kalamu ya Salaam
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