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)

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)

GoGo Penguin is Back With a Beautiful Album – Ocean In A Drop

I know this blog has been quite heavy on classical music recently. I’ll promise I’ll try to increase the frequency of Jazz articles!

So, here we go.

GoGo Penguin

I only discovered GoGo Penguin some years ago. I was really on board they came out with their album Man Made Object, which remains my favorite album of the group until now.

I’ve also listed Man Made Object in My Top 5 Jazz Albums of 2016. I actually had noticed them with their previous 2014 album, V 2.0, which I also really liked. I also had the pleasure of seeing them live already

Therefore, I was quite disappointed when I just really didn’t particularly like their 2018 album A Humdrum Star.

Nicely enough, when their latest album came out yesterday, I was immediately hooked.

If you want to know more about the style of GoGo Penguin, click on any of the links above, but just to quickly summarise, we’re talking about the setup of a traditional Jazz piano trio here, but with music that clearly takes cues from EST, but is equally influenced by Philipp Glass type minimal music, and probably even more by the beats of contemporary Electronica.

GoGo Penguin: Ocean In A Drop (Music For Film) (BlueNote 2019)

GoGo Penguin Ocean In A Drop Music For A Film Blue Note 2019

So here’s the genesis of this album. Apparently the thee artists of GoGo Penguin,  Chris Illingworth, Nick Blacka, and Rob Turner, really liked the Philipp Glass written soundtrack to the 1982 film Koyaanisqatsi.

They liked it so much that they played their own soundtrack to the film. Everything was recorded live while watching the movie.

Yes, this may remind you of another famous movie soundtrack that was recorded in a similar manner (which is a great album and should be discussed on these pages at some point), but I digress.

Miles Davis Ascenseur pour l'échafaud  soundtrack

This music was never intended to be released. Nicely though, enough people in their immediate entourage bugged them enough, so now we have a new fantastic album.

It is quite short, EP-style, only 22 min (and one could argue, a bit expensive for the duration), but the music is just fantastic, very inspired. We’re back to the mesmerising mix of fast rhythms and beautiful minimalist melodies that I so loved on Man Made Object.

You really need to check it out.

My rating: 5 stars

You can find it here (Qobuz)

GoGo Penguin Live At Moods, Zürich – May 8, 2016 – A Review

Jazz has a problem. An age problem. I go to many Jazz concerts, and unfortunately, the typical spectator at such a concert is male, middle-aged at least, and grey haired.

I guess the times of Jazz being the music of the cool kids is over since the 1960’s, and overall this genre has been niched too much as intellectual, and has very little presence in the mainstream media and the public mind. Women and younger people are often clear minorities at this kind of concert.

Therefore I was very happy to see that I was able to attend a Jazz concert where not only the musicians where all in their early thirties, but the average age of the audience must have been not more than 25! Also both genders were pretty much equally represented. A very refreshing sight.

So who was able to pull these younger crowds into Moods, the best Jazz club in Zurich?

GoGo Penguin Live At Moods

Well, obviously we’re talking about GoGo Penguin. I’ve already praised their recent release Man Made Object previously, and was very happy to have such a musically rewarding weekend after seeing Michael Wollny’s trio just the day before.

So, how did it go?

Well, first of all, I was impressed. The trio sound of GoGo Penguin is very much influenced by Electronica, so I imagined a fair share of  Logic Pro or Ableton computer wizardry going on on the album.

Well, I obviously was mistaken. While they had their sound engineer with them, and I saw a Macbook connected to the mixing console, the ludicrous speed you here on their albums is nothing but exactly the same what they are pulling off live!

GoGo Pengui Live At Moods May 8 2016 1

Bassist Nick Blacka pictured above was just impressive. Although I was sitting in the first row, I could sometimes barely follow his fingers, they were that fast. And he made generous use of the bow, which is always a nice change.

GoGo Pengui Live At Moods May 8 2016 2

Chris Illingworth on piano sounded at times like a reborn Esbjörn Svensson, but this is probably one of the best compliments you can make to any Jazz pianist.

The real hero of the evening however was Rob Turner on drums.

GoGo Pengui LIve At Moods May 8 2016

The way he kept the beats of amazing syncopating complexity and even crazier speeds was just breathtaking. His pulsating bass drum was of drum machine precision, and was one of the key factors why this evening was so absorbing musically.

Obviously, this is not very traditional Jazz. There was some improvisation, but the music lived much more of the groove and in many moments sounded way more like Drum-and-Bass than Dave Brubeck.

But this is really what we need. Miles Davis famously said “It’s not about standing still and becoming safe. If anybody wants to keep creating they have to be about change.

EST really gets the credit for having started to modernize the Jazz trio. But here we truly have a worthy successor!

This is the kind of change I’d love to see more of!

Check out their concert schedule and if they come anywhere near you, you just have to go!

P.S. To close, some impressions of the Schiffbau buildin, where Moods is located, a former ship yard and industrial site, beautifully converted into a complex for theater, dining, and Jazz. Worth checking out if you’re ever in Zurich

 

All pictures (c) Musicophilesblog 2016

GoGo Penguin’s Man Made Object – The True Successor to EST?

Esbjörn Svensson Trio

I’ve previously written about the Esbjörn Svensson Trio (EST) and their essential role of bringing the Jazz Piano Trio to the 21st century.

However, with the untimely death of Esbjörn Svensson in 2008, I’ve been wondering who would become a worthy successor.

I’ve written about a number of piano trios already, and there is certainly no lack of exciting new trios around. However, none of the trios I’ve written about got close to the particularity of the EST combining elements outside of Jazz into the art form, and having a focus on rhythms that come more from pop, rock, and electro. Well, maybe the US trio The Big Plus, or the Swiss Rusconi (that I both have yet to write about).

However, there is one trio that probably get’s closest to the originality of EST.

GoGo Penguin

Manchester-based GoGo Penguin, has already released two albums, Fanfares (2012), and v2.0 (2014). I started noticing them with the latter album, which I really like.

The trio is drummer Rob Turner, double bassist Nick Blacka and pianist Chris Illingworth. This order is taken directly from their website, and is inverting the usual order of giving the pianist’s name first. Well, I’m pretty sure this order is a very conscious choice, as Rob’s pulsating rhythms are really what sets this group apart from all other trios I’ve heard so far.

Man Made Object (2016 Blue Note)

This is the group’s first album on Blue Note, which should hopefully help them to get to the level of awareness they should be at.

GoGo Penguin Man Made Object 24/44 Blue Note 2016

I bought this album pretty much immediately when it came out.

The rhythmic drive, which is clearly influenced by contemporary electro music, is addictive. Combine to this the groove of Blacka’s bass, and Illingworth’ rather simple, but fascinating harmonics, and you cannot help but being drawn into the music.

My favorite tracks on this album are Weird Cat, epitomizing their style. Smart is another great example. You start out with an experimental intro and then jump pretty much immediately in a strongly syncopated groove by Turner and is joined by Blacka and Illingworth to slowly build up an entire harmonic and rhythmic landscape. Amazing.

Here’s the official video for the opening track, All Res, that should give you a pretty good idea:

 

My rating: 5 stars

You can find it here (Qobuz) or here (Prostudiomasters)

The Legacy Of The Jazz Messengers (7): Kenny Dorham’s Whistle Stop

I haven’t been continuing my Jazz Messengers Mini-Series for a while. It’s really time to change that.

Kenny Dorham is probably one of the least know Jazz Messengers, and this in spite of the fact that he played on the famous Café Bohemia sessions, and being the composer of the great standard Blue Bossa (I just love that song, check it out on Joe Henderson’s Page One or Dexter Gordon’s Biting the Apple).

He has recorded quite a number of noteworthy albums, including Afro-Cuban (1955), Quiet Kenny (1959), Matador (1962), Una Mas (1963), and Trompeta Toccata (1964), all of which are very much worth checking out.

Whistle-Stop (Blue Note 1961)

Kenny Dorham Whistle Stop Blue Note 1961

 

So why call out Whistle Stop? Well, two reasons: a) the cast is stellar, with Hank Mobley, Kenny Drew, Paul Chambers, and Philly Joe Jones, and b) we have only Dorham originals on this album

My favorite song is the bluesy Buffalo, which swings nicely and gives both Dorham and Mobley enough time to develop their solos. Another nice one is the title track, Whistle Stop, faster paced, but nicely grooving. Philly Twist is not dedicated to Philly Joe Jones, the drummer.

This is well done hard-bop, and deserves to be better known.

My rating: 4 stars

You can find it here (Qobuz) or here (HDtracks)

The Legacy of the Jazz Messengers (6): Freddie Hubbard’s Hub-Tones

I’ve a little bit neglecting my Jazz Messengers Mini-Series, don’t really know why. Maybe it is because I consider Freddie Hubbard’s albums for example as just a little bit less essential than the artists I’ve written about so far. Well, anyway, here we go again:

Freddie Hubbard

Freddie Hubbard is considered among musicians as one of the trumpet legends. He probably is one of the typical “musician’s musician”. He has, as my title indicates, played with the Jazz Messengers, but has played with pretty much every well-known Jazz musician of the period, be it John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, you name it. He also plays on The Blues And The Abstract Truth, one of my 25 Essential Jazz albums.

Hub-Tones

Why the 1962 Blue Note album Hub-Tones?

Well, I was torn for a while whether I should feature Open Sesame, Ready For Freddie (both released 1 and 2 years prior to Hub-Tones on BlueNote), or one of the two subsequent releases on Impulse, The Artistry of Freddie Hubbard, or The Body And The Soul. 

You get the picture, these years between 1960 and 1965 were highly productive for Freddie, and all of the above mentioned albums are worth having.

Freddie Hubbard Hub-Tones 24/192 Blue Note 1962

One of the reasons I chose Hub-Tones is probably the cover. Blue Note’s cover art from this period was generally excellent, but I really like the minimalist cover of this particular album.

The other reason is Herbie Hancock, which I prefer slightly to McCoy Tyner on the two previous Blue Note albums (yes, I have a piano background so those things matter to me).

Finally, this album features a lot of Hubbard originals, which I really appreciate.

Another great artist on this album is James Spaulding playing the flute and alto sax alternatively, who is not that well known these days, but has played as a sideman for a large number of Blue Note albums.

My rating: 4 stars

You can download it here (Qobuz) or here (HDTracks)

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