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)

Musicophile’s 25 Essential Jazz Albums – Part I

To be fair, I could never live with only 25 albums, I’d be totally bored at some point. There is too much great music out there to discover, that’s why I’m purchasing a lot of new music every month.

But if I had to choose my personal favorite 25 Jazz artists and list one of their albums (didn’t go for top 10 as this would have really been TOO narrow), I’d go for these. I wouldn’t call this a “must have” list, this is obviously completely subjective, as all of the rest of my blog. But you wouldn’t go wrong in checking them out and see if you like them. There are some obvious candidates in there that you’ll find in every TopXX list out there (I checked many, to make sure I don’t miss anything), some hopefully less obvious personal choices as well. They range from 1958 to 2013.

By the way, I’m cheating a bit, I’m talking about 25 albums, not CDs, so you’ll find a couple of multi-CD albums in there. In the age of the digital download, it doesn’t make any difference anyhow.

The ordering is completely random, I just numbered them so I don’t lose track. As said before, I try to limit to one album per artists, as you could easily build a list of top 25 albums with Keith Jarrett or Bill Evans on their own (maybe this will come in a future post).

This is part I, with no. 1-12, part II can be found here.

1. Keith Jarrett –  At The Blue Note (1995)

Keith Jarrett At The Blue Note The Complete Recordings ECM 1995

Well, obviously my selection had to have a Keith Jarrett album. As I wanted to choose only one per artist, I’m really under pressure here. With so many good Jarrett trio albums out there, which one do you choose? This choice is a bit arbitrary, and could change tomorrow, but I find myself to go back to this album very very often. However, it could have been easily as well Standards Live, Standards in Norway, Whisper Not, or Inside Out.

This album is mastered by the same Jan Erik Kongshaug, that also is responsible for Badgers and other Beings by Helge Lien (see my review here) and many other audiophile treasures.

 2. Miles Davis – Kind Of Blue (1959)

Milles Davis Kind of Blue 24 192 remaster Stereo Blue Note

Sorry, BIG no brainer alarm here. But this is just so freakingly good (thanks probably mainly to Bill Evans), that no matter how often you listen, you just get drawn into the atmosphere over and over again.

Plus, the recent 24/192 remaster (available in mono or stereo, I personally prefer the stereo version) sounds so great that you think you’re sitting in the studio with the guys.

3. Giovanni Mirabassi –  Architectures (1998)

Giovanni Mirabassi Architectures

I haven’t written about Mirabassi on my blog yet. What a shame. Will rectify that soon. In the meantime, this is trio jazz at its best (a guitar is added in some songs).

Mirabassi is still one of my favorite musicians, especially live, however, I still prefer his earlier albums to the more recent ones. Again, more to come.

4. Lee Morgan – The Sidewinder (1963)

Lee Morgan The Sidewinder 24/192 Blue Note

Already reviewed here. Another mega-seller, but nothing wrong with that.

5. Bill Evans – Consecration – The Final Recordings Part 2 (1980)

Bill Evans Consecration The Final Recordings Part 2 Live At The Keystone Korner September 1980 Fantasy Recordings

Bill Evans, another genius, and I haven’t even mentioned him on this blog yet (except for above in the Kind of Blue entry). What a sin. Again, plenty of outstanding albums to choose from. Which trio? LaFaro and Motian, Gomez and Morell, or Johnson and LaBarbera? Well, all are great, so hard to judge. I nevertheless have a particularly strong relationship to this album, as a 1 CD compilation of this last concert series of his was among my first even Bill Evans albums.

Is it really necessary to purchase this 8CD box? And to e.g. get 5 different versions of “Your Story” (the album has takes from different days, so quite some repeats in the playlist). And it get’s even worse, “The Last Waltz” is another 8CD box from the same setting. Well, maybe not universally. And there is obviously the great tragedy of knowing that shortly after these concerts this genius was finally killed by his drug habits.

But when you listen to these recordings, there is so much intimacy, so much creativity, so much melancholy, that you can’t help but be fully absorbed by the music.

Anyway, more to come on Bill Evans on my blog in the future.

6. Horace Silver: Song For My Father (1964)

Horace Silver Song For My Father 24 192 BLue Note

Already reviewed here.

7. Brad Mehldau: The Art Of The Trio Vol. 3 (1998)

Brad Mehldau Art of the Trio vol 3 Songs Warner Jazz 1998

I’m not a universal fan of Brad Mehldau, there are a lot of albums I just cannot stand at all (e.g. Largo), but this one is trio jazz at it’s best.

8. Nina Simone: Little Girl Blue or “Jazz As Played In An Exclusive Side Street Club” (1958)

Nina Simone Little Girl Blue 1958 Bethlehem

Her outstanding debut, with many amazing songs.

9. Triosence: Turning points (2013)

Triosence Turning Points 2013 Sony Classical

Already reviewed here

10. Herbie Hancock – Maiden Voyage (1965)

Herbie Hancock Maiden Voyage 24 192 Blue Note

My favorite Hancock album for the famous title track and Dolphin Dance.

11. John Coltrane – My Favorite Things (1961)

John Coltrane My Favorite Things

Well, obviously Coltrane had to be there. I hesitated quite a bit if I should nominate A Love Supreme or Giant Steps, but somehow this album personally touches me even more, both for the title track and one of my favorite versions of Summertime.

12. Shai Maestro – Shai Maestro Trio (2011)

Shai Maestro Trio Laborie Jazz 2012

Already reviewed here. 

As said before, Part II with nos. 13-25 can be found here.

Download Sources

Keith Jarrett At The Blue Note: here  (Qobuz) and here

Kind of Blue: Here (Qobuz) and here (HDTracks)

Architectures: unfortunately, hard to find as download. You will occasionally find the CD on Amazon

Consecration: here (Qobuz)

Sidewinder: here (Qobuz)

Brad Mehldau Songs: here (Qobuz)

Song for My Father: here (Qobuz)

Nina Simone: here (Eclassical)

Triosence: here (Qobuz)

Maiden Voyage: here (Qobuz)

My Favorite Things: here (HDTracks)

Shai Maestro: here (Highresaudio)

The Legacy of the Jazz Messengers (5): Wayne Shorter – Adam’s Apple

Wayne Shorter

Why did I wait so long, you may ask? Why write about 4 other guys before Wayne Shorter, the absolute heavyweight among the Jazz Messengers Alumni, the only one (to my knowledge) that is still alive and playing?

The guy who got a letter of recommendation by saxophone god John Coltrane to join the Jazz’ Jupiter (big boss of the gods) Miles Davis. Who helped kick off (sadly to my mind, but who am I to judge) the Jazz-Rock and Fusion movement with the group Weather Report he co-founded, and even played with the Stones at some point?

Well, don’t know really. Two issues come to mind: a) respect: what can I still say about such a genius that hasn’t been said before (didn’t stop me in the other posts you may argue, and you’re right). b) choice: So far in my little series on the Jazz Messengers I’ve always picked one, the most enjoyable album, only. That was still kind of doable with the other 4 guys I’ve mentioned here, but which one do you choose for Wayne? At least 3 albums spring to mind that need to be mentioned!

You know what, I’ll just take the liberty (it’s my blog after all, I can do what I want, ain’t it nice?) and do several posts about Wayne, each one with one of my favorite albums.

Adam’s Apple

Wayne Shorter Adam's Apple

Why start with Adam’s Apple? Well, alphabetically it comes first.

No, just kidding, even easier: It is simply the album that got the most plays of all Shorter albums in the last five years. Computer audio is amazing, I not only know what you did last summer (sorry for the stupid movie pun), but thanks to iTunes I can be my own personal NSA and check what I was listening on November 4th, 2011, 8pm for example (Ton Koopman’s Bach cantatas vol. 6, if you’re interested).

Back to Adam’s Apple. I mean, look at the rhythm section, there’s another genius, Herbie Hancock on piano. He’s probably the key reason why I like this album so much. Also, in spite of being released in 1966 (usually a bit “late” for me), it is still very much a proper hard bop album, no fusion or other on here.

And then there are two songs that are worth highlighting as I can’t get enough of them. First there is the title track, it is just swinging and grooving as hard bop should be. Even the guys a blue note tell me on this album Shorter “finds the Groove”, check out this link, it’s got interesting background info on the album.

And then there is the magical (to me) Footprints. Apparently it is not a Jazz waltz (the experts tell me, as this is 6/8 and not 3/4, plus the song keeps changing meter), but still I’d put in one line with the great Jazz Waltzes I really appreciate (probably I need to write another top ten list here). On top of that, Herbie Hancock’s playing here reminds me a lot of Maiden Voyage. 

In short: I really hesitate between 4 and 5 stars here. On one hand it’s Shorter, and has two outstanding songs, on the other hand some of the other songs are not at the same level.

Well if I have to decide: 4 stars in total. 

You can find it here and here. I strongly suggest you go for the recent 24/96 remaster if you care about sound quality (skip the more expensive 24/192), as it is significantly better than the RVG remaster CD released in the 2000’s.

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