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Reviewers: Don Mather, Tony Augarde, Dick Stafford, John Eyles, Robert Gibson, Ian Lace, Colin Clarke, Jack Ashby

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The Finest in Jazz

Blue Note 0946 3 86120 2 5





1. Watermelon Man
2. Blind Man, Blind Man
3. First Trip
4. Cantaloupe Island
5. Maiden Voyage
6. Firewater
Herbie Hancock – Piano
Freddie Hubbard – Trumpet, cornet (tracks 1, 4, 5)
Dexter Gordon – Tenor sax (track 1)
Butch Warren – Bass (track 1)
Billy Higgins – Drums (track 1)
Donald Byrd – Trumpet (track 2)
Grachan Moncur III – Trombone (track 2)
Hank Mobley – Tenor sax (track 2)
Grant Green – Guitar (track 2)
Chuck Israels – Bass (track 2)
Tony Williams – Drums (tracks 2, 4, 5)
Thad Jones – Flugelhorn (track 3)
Peter Phillips – Bass trombone (track 3)
Jerry Dodgion – Alto flute (track 3)
Ron Carter – Bass (tracks 3-5)
Mickey Roker – Drums (track 3)
George Coleman – Tenor sax (track 5)
Johnny Coles – Flugelhorn (track 6)
Garnett Brown – Trombone (track 6)
Jack Jeffers – Bass trombone (track 6)
Jerome Richardson – Flute (track 6)
Joe Henderson – Tenor sax (track 6)
Romeo Penque – Bass clarinet (track 6)
Buster Williams – Bass (track 6)
Albert "Tootie" Heath – Drums (track 6)

This is one of a batch of budget-price CDs which Blue Note is issuing to showcase the work of great individual jazzmen. The bad news is that the playing time is rather meagre at barely 43 minutes, and it took me half-an-hour to decipher the personnel, whose details are printed on the inner sleeve in black on pink so as to be almost invisible. The good news is that this album contains some of Herbie Hancock’s finest work for Blue Note, although it omits such classics as Dolphin Dance.

Throughout his career, Herbie has been notable for the way that he has seldom stood still. From his early recordings with Miles Davis, through the work with his own bands like the Maiden Voyage group and VSOP, to his forays into jazz-rock and the use of electronic keyboards – and the success of such ground-breaking tracks as Rockit, Hancock has never been content to tread water but has always enjoyed exploring new musical avenues. Blue Note was his first record label, so the selections here all date from the 1960s, when his varied talents were already on display.

The album opens inevitably with Watermelon Man, a tune which understandably became a jazz standard with its memorable melody and funky rhythm. It includes strong solos from Freddie Hubbard, Dexter Gordon and Hancock himself. It’s amazing now to consider that it comes from 22-year-old Herbie’s first album as leader – Takin’ Off from 1962. Blind Man, Blind Man from a year later is somewhat in the same vein. Out of chronological order, First Trip (1968) is a Ron Carter composition – a straight four-four jazz outing that shows Hancock still happy with conventional forms. Despite the listed personnel, this is virtually a trio track, featuring Herbie’s educated piano. Jumping back to 1964, Cantaloupe Island is another catchy piece which has survived reworkings by various artists: the archetypal smoochy dance tune.

Maiden Voyage (from the 1965 album of the same name) has a particular resonance for me, as the band’s novel approach influenced a band I was playing with at the time. Once again, Herbie was extending his horizons, employing the ostinato style that was to spread so widely. The collection ends with Firewater from the 1969 album The Prisoner, displaying Hancock’s arranging skills with an unusual line-up. After this album, Herbie left Blue Note and moved elsewhere.

For newcomers to Herbie Hancock, this CD makes as good an introduction as any – although only to his early work. Other CDs in the series "The Finest in Jazz" include albums sampling the music of Thelonious Monk, Lee Morgan, Jimmy Smith and Grant Green. They are all good selections but the paucity of the playing time is regrettable (the Monk album contains less than 32 minutes of music).

Tony Augarde


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