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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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Takin’ Off

Blue Note 0946 3 92757 2 4



1. Watermelon Man
2. Three Bags Full
3. Empty Pockets
4. The Maze
5. Driftin’
6. Alone and I
7. Watermelon Man (alternate take)
8. Three Bags Full (alternate take)
9. Empty Pockets (alternate take)
Herbie Hancock – Piano
Freddie Hubbard – Trumpet, flugelhorn
Dexter Gordon – Tenor sax
Butch Warren – Bass
Billy Higgins – Drums

Herbie Hancock is a musical chameleon – continually changing his style and approach. In an interview he stated: "I have played in so many different styles that I could not categorise myself." Jazz fans have watched him pass through innumerable stages in his career as a pianist, composer and arranger: from his impressive debut album when he was only 22, including the early maturity of his work with Miles Davis, then Maiden Voyage, the Mwandishi and Head Hunters eras, the electronica of Rockit, and the forays back into the world of straightforward jazz. To get things into perspective, it is useful to go back to this, his very first album under his own name, now reissued in Blue Note’s RVG Edition, remastered by Rudy Van Gelder. It was originally recorded in 1962, when he was already becoming known from his playing and recording with Donald Byrd, and his work with the likes of Phil Woods and Oliver Nelson. This album immediately established his reputation with its opening track – Watermelon Man – which became a jazz standard. The fact that this was a new departure is suggested by the fact that drummer Billy Higgins loses his step in the restatement of the theme towards the end of the track. But the tune’s popularity is readily explained by its catchy melody and infectious rhythm, which anticipates the jazz-rock that became so prevalent later on.

Herbie Hancock’s range is shown by Three Bags Full, another funky piece but in jazz-waltz time, with a dislocated rhythmic feel and weird, unexpected chords. In both these opening numbers, Freddie Hubbard and Dexter Gordon supply solos which build on what Herbie has given them. And Hancock’s own solos are lucid and interesting, developing the themes with mature initiative while maintaining a gospelly feeling. The alternate takes of both tunes provide fascinating comparisons, with Watermelon Man given a reading that somehow lacks impetus, while Three Bags Full fails to hang together as the originally released version does.

The other tracks also exhibit Herbie Hancock’s versatility, pointing forward to the diversity of his later work. Empty Pockets is a four-four swinger; The Maze, as its title suggests, moves around disconcertingly before settling into a groove which enables Dexter Gordon to growl forcefully; and Driftin’ is a loping slow-burner, again with that funky atmosphere that made Herbie’s compositions so infectious. Alone and I changes the mood completely, with a pensive ballad lit up by thoughtful playing from Gordon, Hubbard and Hancock.

The album title was well chosen, as it really did show Herbie Hancock takin’ off into a bright future.

Tony Augarde





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