Herbie Hancock has earned the respect and praise from critics and fans. His revolutionary musical ideas has transformed the landscape of jazz and music. He is truly one of the greatest jazz musicians to have ever lived. His numerous awards include an Academy Award for his original soundtrack for the1986 film Round Midnight. Hancock’s albums such as Empyrean Isles and Inventions and Dimensions gave him even more acclaim. In The Best of Herbie Hancock: The Blue Note Years, its nine tracks bring a satisfying set of Hancock’s brilliance and genius.
The gospel, bluesy opening track Watermelon Man will take many back as this is a very familiar tune. This foot stomping song has a constant piano pattern that accompanies the improvisers. The drummer really crashes the beat with emphasis that gives the song the grooving beat. The soloists provide the melody at the beginning. You are reminded of the country with family and friends eating watermelon and having a good time in the country. The trumpet solo has repeated notes in the solo and an effective growling effect. A blues sound is heard in the saxophone solo. Herbie Hancock’s piano solo tops it off with incredible music ideas.
Maiden Voyage begins with a reflective quality with a rhythmic blueprint set in motion by the piano in this third track. The saxophone solo is really saying something, a story that spells out a voyage. In the second solo, the trumpet gains in intensity with a touch that is serene yet not too weak. You hear modal clusters in the piano solo. Hancock’s fingers glide across the keys as it is supported by the responsive drummer. The original melody is reinstated towards the end. Finally at the end, the piece reaches its slumber.
The frisky, up tempo Riot has a dark quality that is kept in motion by the momentum. The trumpet is moving along with much speed, flying through the changes with clarity and accuracy. All of the instruments, especially the bassist are working together in one continuous frenzy. Any question one might have of Hancock's piano technique is answered here. His playing is effortless, carefully drawing out upon his internal musical resources to create the improvisation that is endless. Sequences are heard in the piano solo that is intelligently constructed with amazing dexterity. If one wanted to know what a musical tornado would sound like, look no further than this tune.
The pleasant sounding eighth track Speak Like A Child gives you a very beautiful sound that has a variety of tonal color. I feel that there is a pleading quality in this song. Chromatic passages in the featured piano solo blend in with the overall nebulous beauty presented here. The bass player plays around with the music as well by sounding his strings with an effect at times. At intervals the other instruments provide a background music layer. Trills, glissandos are executed with such grace in the piano. The piano serves as the harp and piano in this tune. Hancock's notes are chosen carefully and stay in character with the music.
The greatness of Herbie Hancock has reached out to not only jazz listeners but to the funk and pop world. This album features a number of his best compositions that add a personality of their own. In terms of variety and influence Hancock's compositions are almost unmatched. His versatility has left a presence in jazz that have given us a lot of hold on to. In this album, you can hear his classical, blues and gospel influence as he has incorporated everything from Debussy to Ravel. He has unlimited creative ideas that manifest itself in not only his compositions but his improvisations. This album is the essence of the musical mind of Herbie Hancock and it is a must buy for any jazz listener.