Herbie Hancock, 1965
One of the nicer things about this project of listening to all my records is that I get to do some deep listening to music that I know quite well already. That's certainly the case with this classic album, which I listened to incessantly about 20 years ago, to the point of having it almost memorized note for note. I tried to listen with a "blank slate" mentality as much as possible, and found it very rewarding.
This is just a lovely album in a thousand ways. Sort of a "concept album," but in the loosest way, the titles of the five cuts all related to a sea voyage. There is amazing playing from everyone throughout (and what a line-up it is, too), but this is Herbie's album and he is definitely the most sublime, whether soloing or ensemble playing or comping. Just the different harmonizations that he gives "Little One" each time the main tune comes back are brilliant.
Herbie Hancock shows himself to be a really great composer here. People talk alot about the "sustained chords" in the music on this album, and it's true that they contribute a lot to the mood, but there's so much more going on as well. For one thing, the counterpoint is so smartly and beautifully worked out - obviously this was something which was talked about among the players too, because the rhythmic relationships unravel and restitch effortlessly during solos.
There are masterful shifts of mood in "Eye of the Hurricane" and "Survival of the Fittest," again showing what makes jazz composition different from what we normally think of as a classical composition process. It's not just writing a head and playing through the changes - there's a certain amount of control over just how the group improvises together as well. This isn't so easy to put into words or notate on paper, but when you listen for it, it's definitely there.
There are dozens of beautiful moments scattered throughout the album ... the melting of Herbie's solo into Tony Williams' on "Survival of the Fittest," the opening flourish of George Coleman's solo on "Maiden Voyage," and that rock-solid rhythm-section groove on "Dolphin Dance," just for starters. Gems all the way through.