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Herbie Hancock- Maiden Voyage (1965)

Herbie Hancock- Maiden Voyage

Blue Note Records

Recorded March 17, 1965

Released in 1965

Maiden Voyage is Herbie Hancock's fifth studio release and is his most celebrated album to this point. Somewhat less experimental than his previous release, Empyrean Isles, Maiden Voyage is meant to be a concept album and an instrumental reflection of oceanic life. The band includes legends: George Coleman on tenor sax, Freddie Hubbard on trumpet, Ron Carter on bass, Tony Williams on drums, and, of course, Herbie Hancock on piano. At the time of the recording, Coleman, Carter, Hancock, and Williams were part of Miles Davis' group, so the lineup is essentially Miles' band, with the younger Freddie Hubbard replacing Miles Davis. According to 1999 liner notes for a reissue of the album, written by Bob Blumenthal, an attempt was made to record the album three days earlier with Hubbard playing cornet and not trumpet and Stu Martin playing drums. The tracks were rejected and have since been lost. The record includes five Hancock tracks and three of Hancock's most beloved songs, “Maiden Voyage,” “The Eye of the Hurricane” and “Dolphin Dance.”

Side 1

(+ means "recommended track" and * means released as a single)

Track 1- “Maiden Voyage.” You know something special is happening from the opening notes. The melody is simplistic and the chord changes are minimal. The blend of the tenor and trumpet works perfectly on the melody. It is evident that the musicians have connectivity, particularly within the rhythm section which can only be developed by a unit that previously worked together. The first solo goes to George Coleman, who I believe has a beautiful tone and well-connected solo phrases. Coleman worked as a Miles Davis’ band member from 1963 to 1964 and is part of some incredible Miles records like My Funny Valentine and Four & More. Afterwards, he played with legends like Lionel Hampton, Chet Baker, Horace Silver, Charles Mingus, Ahmad Jamal, and many others. Coleman has also released material as a leader. He is also an actor and has been seen in movies like Freejack and The Preacher's Wife.

The next soloist is Freddie Hubbard, one of the most celebrated and explosive trumpeters to emerge in the 1960s. There are not enough adjectives to describe his creativity and technicality. He is simply incredible. Listen to how he builds his solo on this track and how the ensemble follows his direction. Also, take notice of the quality of his tone and the cohesiveness of his improvised statements. Herbie Hancock then enters with his improvisation, which is atmospheric and full of subtleties. Hancock is simply one of the most inventive pianists and musicians. Following Hancock's solo, the main melody returns. “Maiden Voyage” is considered a jazz standard and is frequently played today by various jazz musicians. (+)

Track 2- “The Eye Of The Hurricane.” With no intro or warning, the group comes out swinging, and the main melodic statement showcases surprising time feel changes in the same way in which a hurricane can take an unexpected path. Hubbard takes the first solo and plays with great fire and energy. Behind it all is the power of the rhythm section. The section works as a team, and although they play with defined time; they accent and break the pulse in a way that only they could. The second solo belongs to Coleman, who presents a series of bop and post-bop statements. Hancock follows and showcases a mixture of bebop, post-bop, and modal-type statements. At this time, the pianist was great at taking risks in his playing without going so far out that it alienated core or casual jazz listeners. After Herbies’ solo, the melodic theme returns. This track is a storm worth braving. (+)

Side 2

Track 1- “Little One” begins nebulously and then settles into a groove around 1:30 minutes, when it morphs into a jazz waltz. George Coleman opens with the first solo, often building on short phrases, leaving enough space for the listener to absorb each phrase. Underneath it all is a tonal rhythmic pallet created by one of the finest rhythm sections in jazz. The next solo comes from Hubbard, who never disappoints. Check out Ron Carter's string slides on the bass underneath the improvisation. Hancock solos next, and instead of fast pianistic runs, he offers less note-heavy melodic statements against some gorgeous harmonic voicings. Bassist Ron Carter then plays his only solo on the record. The solo is not overly technical but well-connected and is finely handled. The music then settles as the time breaks down, and the opening theme is again offered.

Track 2- “Survival of the Fittest” begins with a quasi-Latin groove on the piano followed by a bass statement before a breakdown leading to a drum solo by Tony Williams, one of the most skilled and inventive performers on his respective instrument. At the time of the recording, he was only 19! Then, the music moves to a fast swing, with Hubbard soloing. Take specific notice of how Hancock, Carter, and Williams create underneath by shifting accents, temporarily breaking time, and moving in directions together in a way that no other rhythm section seemed capable of. The music settles, and Williams plays another drum break centered around the tom drums. Coleman then enters, and the rhythm section gets more exploratory. The tenorist plays with great energy and precision. Hancock then begins his solo as the rhythm section lays back. The pianist creates a meditative state with a left-hand repetition as he runs up and down the keyboard with the right hand. He shifts in and out of ideas, and it is some of the most daring playings on the album, showcasing Herbie’s interest in more free jazz forms. Once again, Williams plays a break between the solos and goes into basher mode. The horns return with a few well-executed rhythmic stabs before the song ends abruptly.

Track 3- “Dolphin Dance” is a Herbie Hancock classic. Without song lyrics, the title instantly gives the listeners an image of dolphins playing, and it works quite well on this number. Adding a title to a jazz piece is a great responsibility. The melody is subtle, simple, and perfectly executed. It is one of his most covered tunes and shows Hancock's blending of modal playing and swing. The tempo is medium slow, and the melody music has breath. Freddie Hubbard takes the first improvisation, and, as always, he enhances the experience. Coleman counters and his phrases and statements work well over the slower tempo and the exploratory nature of the rhythm section. Herbie Hancock then solos, and there is beauty in hearing Hancock with just Williams and Ron Carter. Coleman and Hubbard re-enter with the melody. “Dolphin Dance” brings this sea journey to a perfect close. (+)

In Conclusion

Maiden Voyage is a remarkable album showcasing the personality of Hancock's writing style and the incredible execution and creativity of the musicians on the record. It is exploratory but not overly experimental or pretentious. Therefore, if you are looking for your first Herbie Hancock album, this would be a perfect maiden voyage into the mind and music of one of the most impactful jazz pianists and composers: Herbie Hancock.

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