Herbie Hancock – Empyrean Isles

Herbie Hancock

First of all, I haven’t posted here in more than 2 months. Wow, time flies. A lot of stuff going on at work, but still, not sure why I haven’t posted more.

One of the reasons is that I wasn’t really impressed by any new releases recently, and haven’t purchased a lot of music therefore.

However, my favorite streaming service / download seller Qobuz (I have no affiliation), has currently a Jazz special offer going on, with some albums being discounted by 40%.

Therefore, instead of buying new stuff, I ended up mostly re-buying high-res remasters of albums I mostly already owned, many of them from my favorite Jazz period, the 1960s.

One of the albums I re-purchased was Herbie Hancocks classic, Empyrean Isles, and then I noticed I hadn’t done a single blog post about Herbie in now 6 years (but I did mention another classic of his, Maiden Voyage, in my 25 Essential Jazz Albums).

So, here we go:

Herbie Hancock – Empyrean Isles (Blue Note Records 1964)

Herbie Hancock - Empyrean Isles (24/192) Blue Note 1964
B

Empyrean Isles is Hancocks 4th studio album, recorded at the age of 24. It has a pretty stellar cast, with my old favorite Freddie Hubbard on cornet (a type of trumpet), Ron Carter on bass, and Tony Williams on drums.

Hancock knew these colleagues well already, having played with them in the second Miles Davis quintet.

Most casual listeners will know at least one song from the album, track no. 3, the classic Cantaloupe Island. Hancock covered it even himself, in his 1976 funk album, as Cantelope Island. But the most famous cover version probably remains US3’s 1992 cover version, that introduced it to a wholly new audience. Furthermore, the song has been used in countless movie soundtracks and commercials. And I must admit, it also remains my favorite track on the album. Together with the earlier Watermelon Man, it is probably Hancock’s most favorite track.

The rest of the album is very enjoyable, too.

That said, the opening One Finger Snap, is actually my least favorite, for a simple reason, it doesn’t have a very strong melody (yes that’s me, I’m a sucker for melodies). It is still groovy and clearly gets my foot to tap.

Olioqui Valley is already a much stronger tune for me, with it’s modal tendencies, this song really sucks me in from the very first chords. Maybe I also like it better than the opening track, because Hancock here plays a much more prominent role, and being an amateur pianist, I just like hearing the piano. It hasn’t truly become a Jazz standard, but you hear it played every once in a while by other musicians as well.

Finally, The Egg is the longest track on an album with nearly 14 min of playtime. It really manages to never get boring, starting with the hypnotic repetitive opening pattern of Hancock, Carter, and Williams, which really allows Hubbard to shine. The rest of the track allows all of the musicians to solo.

Overall, this is not a must have album to me, but I find it overall to be very enjoyable.

My rating: 4 stars

You can find it here (Qobuz)

Monty Alexander Love You Madly- An Audiophile and Musical Delight

I’m not an audiophile

OK, that statement is only partially true. I do care about the sound quality of my music, I have a mid-level speaker system and a high end headphone setup, and I did spend some time in hifi-shops figuring out which gear I like. I’m a man, and we like our toys.

But I still wouldn’t call myself an audiophile. This special category of nerds (nothing wrong with that, I’m certainly a classical music nerd as witnessed by me doing this blog) that just love tinkering, speaking about gear, and in some extremes would rather listen to the latest “audiophile” recording even if the music is mediocre (Jazz at the Pawnshop, anybody?).

That’s how my blogger name came to be, I called myself “Musicophile” as opposed to “audiophile”. And you’ll see that on this blog I’m pretty much exclusively writing about the musical qualities of the albums I discuss, and only rarely comment about the recording quality.

But every once in a while you’ll find recordings that are both a musical and an audiophile delight, so let me break my own rule and start 2022 after a 2 month hiatus (due to a lot going on at my day job) with one of those.

Monty Alexander – Love You Madly – Live At Bubba’s (Resonance Records / 2xHD 1982/2020)

Monty Alexander Love You Madly Live At Bubba's 2xHD DXD DSD

I’ve reviewed another Monty Alexander live album previously, his very enjoyable live concert at Montreux.

This recording is actually now 40 years old, it was recorded at a club in Florida back in 1982. It has recently been re-released in 2 formats, a regular 24/96 high-res remaster that already sounds really nice, and then in the format I’ll be discussing here, from the small audiophile table 2xHD. They are doing a rather complicated audiophile voodoo treatment of a small catalogue of recordings. Other excellent examples of albums from them I own are remasters of the outstanding Brahms violin sonata and trio recordings with the Tetzlaffs which I’ve yet to review on this blog, as well several excellent Bill Evans albums.

I’ll leave it to the audiophile nerds to describe the impact of the 2xHD treatment, suffice it to say that the 2xHD version sounds a bit “smoother”, more “analog”, and somewhat warmer, without loosing detail, compared to the regular remaster. Your choice if you care about these nuances or not

But enough audiophile mumbo jumbo, what about the music, you ask?

Well, it’s a really interest setup, we’re talking about a traditional piano trio, with Paul Berner on bass and Duffy Jackson on drums, but we get the addition of a percussionist here, the excellent Robert Thomas, Jr.

Alexander is originally from Jamaica, and adding a percussionist really adds something very special here, setting it apart from regular trio sessions.

First of all, to quote Duke Ellington, It Don’t Mean A Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing, nothing to worry about here, there’s plenty of swing, if you can listen to this without tapping your foot to the fast numbers, you must be deaf.

But on top of that you get outstanding latin jazz numbers, such as Samba di Orfeu, or Fungi Mama where Robert Thomas, Jr. really shines, and you get a really interesting example of Jazz/Reggae fusion with Reggae Later. The only thing you won’t find on this album is intimate ballads, but well, we’ve got plenty of Bill Evans albums for that already

Overall, this is a truly enjoyable and somewhat special live gig, that you’ll particularly appreciate if you have decent playback equipment, but will get your foot tapping even if played over a $50 bluetooth boombox.

My rating: 5 stars

You can find the recording with the 2xHD voodoo in formats all the way up to DXD here (NativeDSD), or you can go to the regular high-res version here (Qobuz)

Moments in Time – One of the best Stan Getz live albums

Stan Getz

I haven’t written that much about Stan Getz on my blog, as I don’t listen to his albums very often.

He’s probably best known for his latin jazz collaborations with Joao Gilberto, published under the simple titles of Getz/Gilberto (yes, the Girl from Ipanema, and she still goes walking) and Jazz Samba, both among the best selling jazz albums of all times.

There’s another album with Stan Getz I really enjoy, the 1958 Stan Getz & The Oscar Peterson Trio. I bought this very early in my Jazz discovery journey as Oscar Peterson’s trio was one of my gateway drugs into Jazz, and I bought a lot of his classic Verve albums. This one is definitely worth checking out.

Other than that, it seems to me that Getz has somewhat had an image issue with the hardcore jazz community, as his West Coast style jazz was not really seen as exciting as the developments going on in New York City. And I must admit, I mostly myself stick to the great Hard Bop period.

But then there’s Getz late period. I’ve already listed a set of fantastic performances in Europe, People Time, the collaboration with Kenny Barron, in my 25 Essential Jazz albums. I really get a very special introspective intensity from these late performances.

And then I recently discovery yet another live album that I didn’t have on my radar screen, recorded more than a decade earlier, that I really enjoy. It was only released in 2018.

Stan Getz – Moments in Time (Resonance Records 1976/2018)

This concert was discovered in the archives of the Keystone Corner, a San Francisco Jazz club.

I must admit I didn’t know any of the rhythm section previously, which includes Joanne Brackeen on piano, Clint Houston on bass, and Billy Hart on drums. Apparently, these were taken from the first part of the concert which featured just this quartet, which were then followed by a second set with Joao Gilberto.

So, what are we getting here?

Well, on the surface, mostly easy going jazz with the typical Stan Getz sound. But I still like this album much more than the average Getz album from this era.

Why? I presume it’s the live setup which gives just a special intensity to the performances. Live has the advantage of just giving more time to each individual musician to express themselves, with time to breathe and solo. The longest individual performance, Gillespie’s Con Alma, which is one of my favourite tracks on this album, has a playing time of 12:34. But the track I truly like best is a ballad, Wayne Shorter’s Infant Eyes, which really just has a beautiful intensity and intimacy to it.

So, overall, really an album really worth exploring.

My rating: 4 stars (with Con Alma and Infant Eyes being truly 5 stars)

You can find it here (Qobuz)

Alternatively, if you believe a bit in some audiophile voodoo, you can also get this remaster from 2xHD (it’s the one I bought and how I discovered the album in the first place).

The “Best” Keith Jarrett Solo Album? The Legendary Sun Bear Concerts

The “Sun Bear” Concerts

Keith Jarrett has recorded A LOT of solo concerts. Attending one of the last of them in 2015 actually triggered me to start this blog.

I’ve reviewed a number of them here already, and still have the ambition at some point to review them all. You’ll find the links to my reviews of his concerts in Budapest, Munich, Paris, Modena/Ferrara/Torino/Genova, Bregenz/München, Milan, and Bremen/Lausanne, which I mentioned in my 25 Essential Jazz albums. And yes, there’s obviously, the Köln Concert, the best selling solo Jazz album in Jazz history.

None of these concerts is ever not worth exploring, but some are better than others.

The Sun Bear Concerts however are in a good spot to be a contender for the best solo piano album of Jarrett ever. Thanks to my loyal reader Alain for reminding me to finally get this blog post out.

Keith Jarrett Sun Bear Concerts Piano Solo Recorded in Japan ECM DSD64 Remaster

Calling the Sun Bear Concerts an “album” is a bit of an understanding. When they came out, they were a hefty 10 vinyl box (which I still own), and in the days of CDs it still filled 6 of the silver discs. We’re actually talking about 6h42 of music with concerts taken from 5 different cities in Japan, all in 1976, the year following the legendary Köln Concert.

I must admit I’m not even going to try to properly “review” 7 hours of music. It would probably a rather boring read anyhow. What I can say though is that in spite of being this long, this really is a gem of a box.

Jarrett can have three tendencies that I tend to dislike: 1) occasionally, he get’s into “noodling”, i.e the music isn’t going anywhere. Which shouldn’t be surprising given that they are 100% improvised. You barely get this here. Where he found his creative energy, I’m not sure, but let’s face it, the man is a genius. 2) Sometimes Jarrett gets quite beyond tonality. I’m personally not a big fan of this, my simple little brain is just to addicted to actually chords and melodies. Again, very little of this during the 6 hours of music. And 3) there isn’t a Jarrett album without his somewhat obnoxious humming along to the music. I’m still hoping some future AI can filter this out at some point, but on this album, maybe because of the special atmosphere in Japan, he holds himself back much more than usual.

All of this taken together makes this album an absolute must have for any loyal Jarrett fan, but I’d even say it should be your next step after the Köln Concert as your gateway drug, even if you’re not very much into Jazz at all (for me the Köln Concert was the 2nd Jazz album I ever owned, and it clearly got me hooked forever).

My rating: A very definite 5 stars

You can find it here (Qobuz, 16/44 CD version) or here (Highresaudio DSD remaster)

Delightfulee – Very Much So Indeed

Hard Bop

In the earlier days of my blog, I had an entire series on the Hard Bop period of Jazz. I haven’t written a lot about it recently.

I’m not sure why. Probably because I just haven’t listened to it as much recently. Without noticing, I saw my listening preferences subtly move towards even more classical music, with less emphasis on Jazz.

However, whenever I return to one of my hard bop classics, I can’t help but just truly enjoy the experience. It is a much more visceral enjoyment, compared to the sometimes more intellectual appreciation of some of my classical albums (not that classical music cannot be truly emotional).

Nicely enough, many of the old classics are now being remastered and re-released, which typically gets me to buy the same album again. As is the case in this one.

Lee Morgan: Delightfulee (Blue Note 1966)

Lee Morgan Delightfulee Blue note 1966 24/96
Note

Lee Morgan is mostly known for his legendary album The Sidewinder (see my review here), which I included in my 25 Essential Jazz albums list, but not only he’s been a fantastic sideman on a lot of great albums, including the other legendary classic, Moanin(yes, Morgan is yet another Jazz Messengers alumnus).

This album was recorded in 1966, probably the last year before Jazz descended on what to me are the dark ages of free and fusion (I’ve discussed this extensively on this blog that I barely listen to any Jazz albums between 1966 and 1980 approximately, with some exceptions to confirm the rule).

The very first track is already something I truly love, Ca-Lee-So, in the latin inspired Calypso style. This song, in my humble opinion, beats even the most famous Jazz Calypso of all, Sonny Rollins St. Thomas from the album Saxophone Colossus that was recorded 10 years earlier, and I believe contributed to make this style popular.

Yesterday starts a bit on the cheesy side admittedly. Once you get through the intro, it really gets better, giving time to the individual soloist to dissect the harmony of this classic.

Sunrise, Sunset, is just very solid swing, one that if you’re not tapping your foot to it, you are really missing the point.

Another highlight to me is Nite Flite, with its beautiful modal approach. It is also the longest track on the album, which confirms my theory that the longest tracks are often among the best (they just give more time for the soloists to develop their ideas, in this case particularly to the brilliant Joe Henderson, but McCoyTyner also gets plenty of air time).

Overall, a very aptly named album.

My rating: 4 stars

You can find it here (Qobuz)

One Of The Few Fusion Albums I Actually Like: Light As A Feather

Fusion Jazz

Regular readers of my blog will know that my sweet spot in Jazz was typically between 1957 and 1966. Before that, the Swing era really wasn’t my thing, and as of somewhere in 1967 jazz decided to go either towards free jazz (which I can’t stand) or towards fusion. I fully understand why a musical genius like Miles Davis cannot be bothered to record one Kind of Blue after another (even if I wish he did), but unfortunately the 1970s really were mostly a kind of no-go-zone for me Jazz-wise, as I already mentioned in my recent blog post about Keith Jarrett going back to what I like with his Standards Trio in the 1980s.

The only 1970s albums I like are usually by Bill Evans, who basically stuck to his beautiful trio style until the very end, and some of Keith Jarrett’s work, like his solo albums (Köln, Bremen/Lausanne, Sun Bear), or a selection of his European work like My Song).

But let me write here about one of the few albums from that era (that is truly fusion) that I like, not only because we played some of its song of the with my amateur Jazz group when I still had time for that (our favorite was 500 Miles High, the crazy chord changes still drive me nuts when I’m trying to play it now).

Chick Corea & Return To Forever – Light As A Feather (Polydor 1973)

Chick Corea and Return To Forever Light As A Feather 24 96

I’m just noticing that I have had my blog for more than 5 years now and I’ve never written about Chick Corea. Probably just because of the fact that a lot of what he did really is in the fusion genre.

So, who is playing here? Well, Chick obviously, mostly on a Fender Rhodes electrical piano, and then Return To Forever, with Airto Moreira on drums, Joe Farrell on saxophone and flute, and Flora Purim’s beautiful voice. Most of the tracks are Samba inspired, which is the only style of fusion I can listen to (Jazz Rock makes me run away).

This is actually the second album that Corea recorded with Return To Forever, the 1972 predecessor (simple called Return To Forever, recorded by the way by Manfred Eicher who just had started ECM some years earlier), is also very good. I’ll have to review that one another time.

So, what are my highlights here? I’d say, Captain Marvel is really grooving very nicely, but 500 Miles High with it’s 9:14 playing time has even more room to develop, in some of the middle part the percussion just goes crazy.

And then there’s my hidden favorite, Spain, inspired by the Concerto Di Aranjuez (which I wrote about recently), or more likely by Miles Davis adaptation Sketches Of Spain with Gil Evans).

Overall, you should really check this classic out if you’re not aware of it yet.

My rating: 4 stars (the four stars are very personal, I take of one star as fusion still isn’t fully my cup of tea).

You can find it here (Qobuz)

Keith Jarrett: Standards Live

Keith Jarrett’s Standards Trio

Happy New Year, dear readers! I assume all of you are keeping your fingers crossed that 2021 will be the year that will make things better, and that we all can attend live concerts again

In the meantime, recorded live concerts are for most of us the only option to recreate that feeling, so I thought it would be a good idea to write about some of these.

As the subtitle of my blog indicates, I’m a big Keith Jarrett fan. And his “Standards” trio with Gary Peacock and Jack de Johnette, remains, after Bill Evans legendary trios, the archetype of the Jazz Piano Trio, one of my favorite art forms.

The Standards Trio was formed semi-formally in 1983, when the trio recorded the album Standards, featuring, guess what, the jazz standards of the Great American Song Book (I’ve reviewed the legendary vol. 2 of this album here). This is not the first time the trio played together, but it was the start of more than a decade of albums, many of them live, of the trio playing together. This came as a return to more accessible music, after the 1970s, which for me Jazz-wise were not very interesting (I really don’t like free jazz, jazz-rock, fusion, or most of the other stuff that came out of that decade that for me was much more interesting on the art-rock side of things).

I’ve already put the fantastic Live at the Blue Note box into my 25 Essential Jazz Albums, and have also reviewed the enjoyable After The Fall from 1998, 15 years after the original Standards album.

Standards Live (ECM 1986)

Keith Jarrett Standards Live Highresaudio DSD remaster

This album was recorded in 1985, two years after Standards, at a live concert in Paris.

It captures all the energy of the trio at the peak of their performance, and unlike After The Fall, is recorded with the excellent recording quality that ECM is well known for.

Thanks to the live format, the trio always has sufficient times to develop the songs, with the average track length being 8-11 minutes. You can hear the fun the trio is having.

We start out with a true standard, the beautiful Stella By Starlight, that Jarrett takes a while to intro solo before the trio kicks in. They follow up with a solid The Wrong Blues, that has absolutely nothing wrong with it. Falling In Love With Love is the archetype of the swinging and grooving together. But the track from this album that I go back over and over again is Too Young To Go Steady, that Jarrett again intros solo. This is 10:11 of pure bliss to me. This is a textbook example of the trio playing truly as one.

The only downside of this, as of pretty much every other Jarrett album is his constant humming and vocalising. I still hope at some point that an AI will be able to filter this out….

My rating: 5 stars (it’s not the absolute best of the Standards trio live albums, the rating is mainly driven by the sublime To Young To Go Steady, but it id still so much better to my ears than so much other music that’s out there).

You can find it here (Highresaudio, audiophile DSD remaster) and here (Qobuz)

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