Sunday, August 23, 2015

Herbie Hancock - 1969 [2014] "Fat Albert Rotunda"

Disc: 1
1969 "Fat Albert Rotunda"

Fat Albert Rotunda is the eighth album by jazz keyboardist Herbie Hancock, released in 1969. It also was the first album that Hancock had on the Warner Bros. Records label, since leaving Blue Note Records. The music was originally done for the TV special Hey, Hey, Hey, It's Fat Albert, which later inspired Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids TV show. Fat Albert Rotunda, along with Mwandishi and Crossings was reissued in one set as Mwandishi: The Complete Warner Bros. Recordings in 1994.

On this album Hancock changes his style radically and takes instrumental soul music rather than jazz as the basis of his compositions. Many songs also hint at his forthcoming jazz-funk style that he fully approached a few years later. A perfect example of classic songs, such as "Tell Me a Bedtime Story" (which later turned up also on the 1978 Quincy Jones album, Sounds...and Stuff Like That!! in a more funk-esque type song) and "Jessica" (which later turned up on the 1977 Hancock album, VSOP: The Quintet.)

The jazz world generally looks at Herbie Hancock's 1973 jazz-funk opus Head Hunters as the keyboardist's first foray into combining the world of funk, soul and R&B rhythms with jazz improvisation, but in fact it was four years earlier with Fat Albert Rotunda that Herbie showed how funky jazz music could really be. Fat Albert Rotunda came about when Hancock was tapped to compose some soundtrack music for the "Fat Albert" television show, after which he ended up with a full album's worth of material. It would be his first of three albums released on Warner Brothers, marking a short stop between his tenure at Blue Note and his longtime home at Columbia Records. There are, of course, major differences between Head Hunters and Fat Albert Rotunda, the main ones being the heavy use of synthesizers and only a single horn player on the former, while Hancock employed the Fender Rhodes and a full horn section on the latter. This gives Fat Albert Rotunda a more Stax/Muscle Shoals feel to the funk than Head Hunters, but there are still the basic sensibilities at work: that jazz and funk could not only co-exist, but also thrive creatively.

And the album is not only a jazz-funk experiment, but also shows that Hancock was still at a creative high point, one he had been riding since his Blue Note debut Takin' Off in 1962. While there are funky tracks like "Fat Mama," which must have blown away a certain segment of the jazz community (critics and musicians alike) when it was released, there are also more modern jazz-oriented tunes like the phenomenal "Tell Me A Bedtime Story," which other then the funky drum line is more in line with much of the soul jazz happening at the time [listen to both tracks above].

The line-up for the session is a great one, for most of the record it is a powerhouse septet, with the likes of Johnny Coles, Joe Henderson and Albert "Tootie" Heath leading the way. For the first and last tracks, the group is expanded into a much larger one - one of the first "funky orchestras" maybe - with the addition of such soon-to-be '70s jazz funksters as Joe Farrell, Eric Gale and the legendary funky drummer Bernard Purdie. Everyone's playing is on-point, but more importantly it sounds like everyone is having a grand old time playing this music, which is the whole damn point in the end, is it not?

After Fat Albert Rotunda Hancock would form his "Mwandishi" band - which was first a sextet and then a septet - and would explore a very specific kind of electronic jazz for the first time. The group would appear on Mwandishi and Crossings (on Warner Brothers), as well as on Sextant (his first record for Columbia), and these three records really stand on their own in both Hancock's discography and the history of jazz. They are in a genre all their own. After Sextant, Hancock would enter into a whole new realm of popularity and critical acclaim with Head Hunters, but one listen to Fat Albert Rotunda and you can hear the roots of that music and glimpse the vision of the man who would open up a new realm for musicians to explore and jazz aficionados to enjoy.

Track Listings:

1. Wiggle Waggle
2. Fat Mama
3. Tell Me A Bedtime Story
4. Oh! Oh! Here He Comes
5. Jessica
6. Fat Albert Rotunda
7. Lil' Brother
8. Wiggle Waggle (Mono)
9. Fat Mama (Mono)


Herbie Hancock — piano, electric piano
Joe Henderson — tenor sax, alto flute
Joe Farrell — tenor sax (uncredited in original LP release)
Garnett Brown — trombone
Johnny Coles — trumpet, flugelhorn
Joe Newman — trumpet (uncredited in original LP release)
Buster Williams — electric & acoustic bass
Albert "Tootie" Heath, Bernard Purdie — drums (Purdie was uncredited in original LP release)
Eric Gale — guitar (uncredited in original LP release)


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