Monday, October 21, 2019

Herbie Hancock - 1964 [1999] "Empyrean Isles"

Empyrean Isles is the fourth album by American jazz pianist Herbie Hancock, recorded in 1964 for Blue Note Records. The album was recorded at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, on June 17, 1964. Pianist Hancock's quartet consisted of Freddie Hubbard on cornet, Ron Carter on bass, and Tony Williams on drums. The four compositions were written by Hancock.

My Point of View and Inventions and Dimensions found Herbie Hancock exploring the fringes of hard bop, working with a big band and a Latin-flavored percussion section, respectively. On Empyrean Isles, he returns to hard bop, but the results are anything but conventional. Working with cornetist Freddie Hubbard, bassist Ron Carter, and drummer Tony Williams -- a trio just as young and adventurous as he was -- Hancock pushes at the borders of hard bop, finding a brilliantly evocative balance between traditional bop, soul-injected grooves, and experimental, post-modal jazz. Hancock's four original concepts are loosely based on the myths of the Empyrean Isles, and they are designed to push the limits of the band and of hard bop. Even "Cantaloupe Island," well-known for its funky piano riff, takes chances and doesn't just ride the groove. "The Egg," with its minimal melody and extended solo improvisations, is the riskiest number on the record, but it works because each musician spins inventive, challenging solos that defy convention. In comparison, "One Finger Snap" and "Oliloqui Valley" adhere to hard bop conventions, but each song finds the quartet vigorously searching for new sonic territory with convincing fire. That passion informs all of Empyrean Isles, a record that officially established Hancock as a major artist in his own right.

Even if you've never listened to "Empyrean Isles" before, you already know the track "Cantaloupe Island" off of this album, which together with its follow-up "Maiden Voyage", comprises the pinnacle of Hancock's acoustic 60s output. Listening to this set, it's almost hard to comprehend that it was recorded over fifty years ago, as it is still regularly being sampled and used in films, tv shows and commercials to this day, which is a testament to just how forward thinking this album was, and how fresh and contemporary it still sounds even today. An absolutely essential, core selection for every jazz fan's collection.

One of the great albums from the golden age of modern jazz and one of the key predecessors of post bop jazz. Empyrean Isles stuns in every way with it's variety covering hard bop (One Finger Snap), modal (Oliloqui Valley), soul (Cantaloupe Island), and free (The Egg) jazz. This is edge of your seat type stuff. Throughout the album, Herbie Hancock, Freddie Hubbard, Ron Carter, and Tony Williams stun us with astonishing inventive playing such as the shifting repetitive piano riffs of Hancock on The Egg, which are coupled by Tony Williams perfectly in sync playing, these only make up a part of The Egg which has an almost suite like structure where Hancock and Carter completely go off on their own, but not in a discordant fashion before returning to repetitive, syncopated theme with Williams. While Cantaloupe Island has Hancock repeating a single piano riff while everyone else improvises around him in true soul jazz fashion. One of Hancock's finest Blue Note era contributions, Empyrean Isles is essential.

The 60s was an exciting, inventive period in American Jazz music. And, when one looks at the line-up on this album you realize the musical strength necessary to hold up the visionary leanings of Hancock. A powerhouse of organic Jazz by the fables of the genre. 'Empyrean Isles' is a beautiful instance of the emergence of modal jazz. Those in the know will always tell you, this release is essential. Foundational. And pairs magically with 'Maiden Voyage.'

Original Album Liner Notes:
This is a quartet album for trumpet and rhythm section. In this circumstance, a problem was created for the composer-arranger, in that the lack of another instrument supporting the lower, richer register, such as a tenor saxophone, might result in a shallow sound.

With this problem in mind, Herbie Hancock, who composed and arranged all the tunes, wrote them to sound more like improvisations than ensemble melodies, so that the warmth and fullness of a supporting instrument would not be missed. Free sketches were written in such a way that each instrument is allowed great flexibility of interpretation. In many cases, no melodic line was laid out over the chords nor atonal clusters written, so that the trumpeter could supply any melody he wished.

“The Egg,” the most exemplary composition in the album, has only a short trumpet melody written out over a repeating figure in the rhythm section. This sets the mood and builds up tension; after that, the musicians’ ears do the rest!

Track listing:

1.    "One Finger Snap"    7:20
2.    "Oliloqui Valley"    8:28
3.    "Cantaloupe Island"    5:32
4.    "The Egg"    14:00
Bonus tracks on 1999 CD release
5.    "One Finger Snap" (alternate take)    7:37
6.    "Oliloqui Valley" (alternate take)    10:47


    Herbie Hancock – piano
    Freddie Hubbard – cornet
    Ron Carter – bass
    Tony Williams – drums



  2. A Gem! Thank you Dear Crim!