V.S.O.P. It was compiled from two concert performances: one at the Greek Theatre, University of California, Berkeley, on July 16, 1977; the other at the San Diego Civic Theatre on July 18, 1977. The musicians were Herbie Hancock on keyboards, Freddie Hubbard on trumpet and flugelhorn, Tony Williams on drums, Ron Carter on bass, and Wayne Shorter on tenor and soprano saxophones. The recording was originally released in October 1977 as a 2-disc LP by Columbia Records.
With the cheers and huzzahs from their 1976 one-off reunion still
resounding, the reconstituted Miles Davis Quintet minus Miles went on
the road in 1977, spreading their 1965-vintage gospel according to the
Prince of Darkness to audiences in Berkeley and San Diego, CA. In doing
so, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Ron Carter, and Tony Williams, plus
interloper Freddie Hubbard seem to pick up where they left off, with a
repertoire mostly new to the five collectively and developed from there.
It isn't exactly the same — you miss Miles' brooding presence and sense
of space in Hubbard's busy, fiery playing, and Hancock is a more
harmonically daring, assertive player than he was with Miles — but the
interlocking telepathy and individual virtuosity of the musicians is
pretty amazing. This also isn't the best tape from the tour; they were
even tighter and more volatile in Japan five days later on Sony's
Tempest in the Colosseum. The V.S.O.P. tours amount to a pit stop in the
general shape of Hancock's evolution, but their influence upon the
direction of jazz as a whole in the '80s and '90s would be staggering
been a desert island disc for me for as long as I can remember. Can you
call this jazz? Can you even call it music? It's something that feels
like a whole lot more. This music teems with life, people, thought,
emotion, creativity, joy, and insane energy like no jazz I've ever heard
before or since. And Ron Carter flat out rocks the bottom out of it on
acoustic bass. Give these guys a nobel.
The two selections that
always kill me are "Jessica" and the hard rocking "Lawra". Jessica
features a beautiful arrangement: the bass plays the lovely and poignant
melody solo, accompanied by rich, dissonant, single note arpeggios from
Hancock which lay out the complex terrain the soloists will then
negotiate. Later, the bass is doubled by the trumpet which refines the
texture even more.
The same group did a poignant and deeply
beautiful version of Maiden Voyage on another live album called "VSOP"
but that recording exists only on vinyl. Still the live version of
Maiden Voyage is available on some compilation CD. Get it and live well!
jazz is not a set of solos with other instrumentalists passively
watching. Hancock, the Socrates of this group, pushes the band into a
state of musical aporia: he doesn't accompany solos, he questions them,
challenging each musician with his absurdly inventive figures; and he's
coming with both jazz and modern western musical arguments. And when
it's his solo he dives deeply into the darkest part of the woods and
then, when you think he's lost, he's emerged out into the bright light.
Williams seems to be playing in a state of ecstasy: he pounds new
worlds into being and the horns have to dance in his garden or die. Ron
Carter rocks out on acoustic bass - he keeps the pulse and he untethers
Williams and Hancock to play with the rhythm and meter.
plays superb and complex music on his solos; Wayne Shorter then steps
beyond music and shows us that a horn can be as expressive as natural
the best live jazz I've ever heard. For one, let's get a look at our
band, shall we? Freddie Hubbard on trumpet, Wayne Shorter on tenor sax;
Herbie Hancock on piano; Ron Carter on bass; Tony Williams on drums. Not
only is that Miles Davis' old '60s band (minus the leader, who was in
retirement at the time - Hubbard takes his place), that's also the same
basic group - other than Shorter - that brought us Empyrean Isles and
Maiden Voyage. Is that prestigious, or what? This is nowhere near fusion
even though Shorter, Hancock and Williams are legends of the subgenre.
And that might surprise the Headhunters crowd, but we must remember that
before Hancock moved fusion forward he was a post-bop pioneer. And
that's pretty much what the group's doing here. Not innovating post bop
exactly, but playing it very well, with Hubbard channeling Miles circa
1965 on "Darts". It also contains what may Tony William's best
composition: the mutlipart "Laura", with a lengthy drum solo inserted in
the middle; and the eerie "Little Waltz", a moving duet dialog Shorter
and Hubbard, with Hancock himself playing sweeping arpeggios and
eventually a spooky, minor-key solo - followed by an awesome Carter solo
spot that often gets so complex it sounds like there are two different
basses playing. Meanwhile, there are a few slightly more offbeat
compositions, like Ron Carter's odd "Third Plane", where he plays some
excellent bass; and "One of a Kind", which has a pretty unique melody.
Another good reason to listen to this album is because of the way the
group handles soloing. Whenever a member is soloing, the other members
play very complex backing to the solos. The last track, "Byrdlike", is
about the furthest into hard bop Herbie ever explored, even sounding
like Art Blakey, and it's worthwhile - especially for Tony Williams'
drumming. The one loser track is "Dolores", which wanders far from the
main point and totally loses me. In spite of that little quibble,
everyone who has any interest in Herbie Hancock should add this to their
shelf as soon as possible and play it as often as they can - it easily
ranks with Empyrean Isles, Head Hunters, Maiden Voyage and The Prisoner
as one of Herbie's very best
musicians in the VSOP quintet, Freddie Hubbard, Wayne Shorter, Herbie
Hancock, Ron Carter and Tony Williams all played on numerous records
with each other in the 60's, sometimes all together, sometimes one or
two or three with other musicians. In any form, their albums were
always exceptional. In the late 70's, after nearly a decade of
experimentation with jazz fusion (Shorter's Weather Report, Hancock's
Headhunters, William's Lifetime Band, etc.) the five reunited for
several albums and tours. The music they made was nothing short of
If the group had remained as a solid, tight "band"
for a long period of time, like Miles Davis' quintets of the late 50's
and middle 60's, or Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, VSOP would have
undoubtedly be recognized as one of the most influential and finest
working bands in jazz history. On this album, the group combines
freebop with a bit of what they had picked up in fusion...more erratic
drums, a heavier sound, etc. It all comes together beautifully to
create an album that really builds off the aesthetic of 1960's Miles
Davis. Everyone is top notch here, with no one stealing the show, and
no one lagging behind. Each band member contributes at least one tune.
My personal favorite is One of a Kind by Freddie Hubbard (which
features a luminous soprano solo by Shorter) Third Plane by Ron Carter
(excellent solos all around) Dolores by Shorter (Hubbard's finest moment
here, IMO, and the churning group improvisation of Darts.
really fantastic about this band, and this album, is the LISTENING.
They are all picking up on what each other is doing, and thus are
constantly building, slowing down, picking things back up, burning,
cooling off, all as one. Hearing Hubbard and Hancock interact, Shorter
and Williams duel, and Ron Carter at like the unbreakable tree in the
storm is just inspiring. This really is freebop (or however you term
it) at it's best, and for anyone well versed in the jazz language, and
who has heard the music of these players, this is quite simply a
stunning, and immensely enjoyable listening experience. I find myself
invigorated when I listen to this album, and I think you will too. My
only sadness is the days of this band are gone, and will never return,
as Hubbard can no longer play, Ron Carter is in semi-retirement,
Williams has passed on, and Shorter and Hancock are involved in other
activities. Thus, it's imperative people listen to albums like these,
so we can always treasure the moments of glory created when these five
exquisite musicians were in the same band, working together to create
one of the highest forms of aural art: jazz.
1. One of a Kind (9:27)
2. Third Plane (7:19)
3. Jessica (7:02)
4. Lawra (9:43)
5. Darts (8:54)
6. Dolores (11:31)
7. Little Waltz (9:33)
8. Byrdlike (8:05)
Total Time 70:13
Line-up / Musicians
- Herbie Hancock / keyboards
- Freddie Hubbard / trumpet
- Tony Williams / drums
- Ron Carter / bass
- Wayne Shorter / tenor and soprano saxophones