Sunday, April 9, 2017

Herbie Hancock - 1977 [1988] V.S.O.P. "The Quintet"

The Quintet is an album by 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 

This has 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!

This 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.

Tony 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.

Hubbard 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 language.

Some of 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

The 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 incredible.

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.

What's 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.

Tracks Listing

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 



  2. Hi Crimhead420,

    I saw your link at Sic Vos Non Vobis. I hope you don't mind me visiting your blog.

  3. Bang on - many thanks for posting this wonderful album

  4. Many thanks for this and all the wonderful recordings you post here.... it's so appreciated! Incredible collection, incredible music.... as a side note, Sic Vos Non Vobis was mentioned above... I see it's gone private, anyone know how to get an invite? Many thanks in advance....