[Review] Herbie Hancock: Empyrean Isles (1964)

An impressive hard-bop buffet of cantaloupe and egg featuring three-fifths of the Miles Davis Quintet plus Freddie Hubbard.

Kronomyth 4.0: Empirical miles.

This is the first truly great Herbie Hancock record (in my unlearned opinion), featuring the current Miles Davis lineup with Freddie Hubbard in place of Davis. Hubbard immediately rises to the challenge with a brilliant performance on the opening One Finger Snap. This first track is fiery stuff played at breakneck speed with precision and soul, breathtaking in execution and rich in the musical possibilities brought into its expansive vista.

The influence of Miles had a remarkable effect on everyone; compare this to the performance of Hancock and Tony Williams on My Point of View from the previous year, and you’ll swear that years have passed. Williams was still developing his trademark style, but the solo on “One Finger Snap” is a quantum leap in the right direction. The second track, Oliloqui Valley, is one of my favorite Hancock compositions of all time. Where the opening number rushes in, this song is cautious coolness that gives Hancock the spotlight. Ron Carter’s solo during “Oliloqui Valley” is classic; he literally pulls the song apart in a slow-motion dissection of his instrument. (The alternate take of “Oliloqui Valley” included on the expanded remaster features a less radical solo.)

The classic Cantaloupe Island joins a storied line of tasty treats to come from Hancock’s amazing melon and outswings them all. The record ends on an experimental note with The Egg, an avant-garde exploration of sound and musical interrelationships that couldn’t be more far removed from “Cantaloupe Island” if they were Australia and Antigua. The earlier albums from Hancock, while enjoyable, were mere sketches compared to the masterpieces of Empyrean Isles, Maiden Voyage and Speak Like A Child, any one of which is likely to turn up in a list of the greatest jazz albums of all time.

Original LP Version

A1. One Finger Snap (7:17)
A2. Oliloqui Valley (8:27)
B1. Cantaloupe Island (5:30)
B2. The Egg (13:59)

All songs written by Herbie Hancock.

Expanded CD bonus tracks
5. One Finger Snap (alternate take) (7:33)
6. Oliloqui Valley (alternate take) (10:45)

Jazz Heritage LP/CS/CD reissue (1991)
A1. One Finger Snap
A2. One Finger Snap (alternate take)
A3. Oliloqui Valley
B1. Oliloqui Valley (alternate take)
B2. Cantaloupe Island
B3. The Egg

The Players

Herbie Hancock (piano), Ron Carter (bass), Freddie Hubbard (cornet), Anthony Williams (drums). Recording by Rudy Van Gelder.

The Pictures

Cover photo by Francis Wolff. Cover design by Reid Miles.

The Plastic

Released on elpee in 1964 in the US (Blue Note, BLP-4175).

  1. Re-issued on elpee in 1973 in the US (Blue Note, BST 84175 with blue “b” label).
  2. Re-issued on elpee in 1982 in France (Blue Note, BST 84175).
  3. Re-issued on direct metal master (DMM) elpee and cassette in 1985 in the US (Blue Note, BST 84175 with blue “the finest in jazz since 1939” label).
  4. Re-released on expanded elpee, cassette and compact disc in 1991 in the US (Jazz Heritage, 912944X/312944T/512944K).
  5. Re-issued on expanded, remastered compact disc in 1999 in the US (Blue Note, 98796) as part of the The Rudy Van Gelder Edition series.
  6. Re-issued on compact disc in 2004 in Japan (Blue Note, TOCJ-6468).
  7. Re-released on expanded CD in Germany (Blue Note, 784175) with two bonus tracks.
  8. Re-packaged on 3CD with Maiden Voyage and Speak Like A Child in 2006 in the UK (EMI, 352749) as Great Sessions.
  9. Re-issued on expanded elpee on January 27, 2015 (Blue Note) with two bonus tracks.
  10. Re-packaged on expanded Blu-Ray CD in 2015 in the US (Blue Note) with Maiden Voyage.
  11. Re-issued on expanded SHMCD on September 28, 2016 in Japan (Universal, UCU-5691) and on December 14, 2016 in Japan (Universal, UCCQ-9223) with two bonus tracks.

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