[Review] Herbie Hancock: Speak Like A Child (1968)

A confident continuation of the modal jazz explored on Maiden Voyage, now with a sextet.

Kronomyth 7.0: Now we are six.

You never forget the first time you have a sextet. Herbie Hancock had poured most of his energies of late into the Miles Davis Quintet, and these March 1968 sessions marked his first time in the studio as a leader in more than a year. The environment was a little different this time: Duke Pearson was in the producer’s chair (the same man whose illness gave HH his big break in the Donald Byrd/Pepper Adams Quintet), Duke’s drummer was in the drum seat and a trio of horn, trombone and flute accompanied Hancock and Ron Carter.

The horn section gave HH the extra voices he was looking for to explore broader harmonies in his music, and the results were lovely on “Speak Like A Child” and “Toys,” reaching a new level of beauty and sophistication for the young composer. The remaining tracks use the sextet sparingly. “The Sorcerer” and “Riot” made their first appearances with MDQ and get a less agitated reading here (I personally prefer Hancock’s solos to Miles’ on “Riot”). Carter’s “First Light” is a fun song, written for his son after a good day at school, in keeping with the album’s theme of childhood (Hancock was making a statement about lost innocence or something, with the opening “Riot” underscoring adult society’s need to return to simpler times). “Goodbye To Childhood” employs dissonant harmony, but hinges mostly on the interplay between Hancock and Carter. Mickey Roker, who plays in the physical style of Philly Joe Jones (his avowed idol), is something of an acquired taste; I find his playing a bit roguish, but I’m lucky to find my car keys on most days.

Speak Like A Child shows the further evolution of Herbie Hancock and is rightfully considered a classic. His playing continues to show increased confidence and creativity and, beyond the confines of the mad magician’s lab, an affinity for lyrical and sentimental music. In 2005, Blue Note reissued this release with three bonus tracks: two alternate takes of “Riot” (the first alternate take is slightly more mellow than the other two versions) and an alternate take of “Goodbye To Childhood” that features a long stretch of solo piano.

Original elpee version

A1. Riot (4:37)
A2. Speak Like A Child
A3. First Trip (Ron Carter) (5:59)
B1. Toys (5:50)
B2. Goodbye To Childhood (7:04)
B3. The Sorcerer (5:34)

CD reissue bonus tracks
7. Riot (first alternate take) (4:53)
8. Riot (second alternate take) (4:38)
9. Goodbye To Childhood (alternate take) (5:49)

All songs composed by Herbie Hancock unless noted.

The Players

Herbie Hancock (piano), Ron Carter (bass), Jerry Dodgion (alto flute), Thad Jones (fluegelhorn), Peter Phillips (bass trombone), Mickey Roker (drums). Produced by Duke Pearson; recording by Rudy Van Gelder. 2004 reissue produced by Michael Cuscuna.

Did You Know?

  • In addition to “The Sorcerer” and “Riot” (which debuted on the albums Sorcerer and Nefertiti), the Miles Davis Quintet also recorded a version of “Speak Like A Child” that was finally released some 30 years later.
  • Hancock has cited The Hi-Lo’s (and their arranger, Clare Fischer) and Gil Evans as influences on the harmonic elements of this album.
  • Hancock has performed “Toys” as a trio and as a sextet over the years, including a noticeably different version in 1972.

The Plastic

Recorded on March 6 and 9, 1968 and released on elpee in 1968 in the US (Blue Note, BST 84279); reached #14 on the US Jazz charts. Re-issued on elpee in 1977 in Japan (King, GXK-8001) with gatefold sleeve.

  • Re-issued on elpee in 1985 in Japan (Blue Note, BNJ 71077) with gatefold sleeve.
  • Re-issued on elpee in c.1986 in the US (Blue Note, BST 84279).
  • Re-issued on compact disc in 1986 in Japan (Blue Note, CP32-5219).
  • Re-issued on compact disc in 1988 in the US (Blue Note) and on October 26, 1988 in Japan (Blue Note, CJ28-5085).
  • Re-released on remastered compact disc on March 24, 2004 in Japan (Toshiba/EMI, TOCJ-9102).
  • Re-released on expanded, remastered compact disc (RVG Edition) on March 1, 2005 in the US (Blue Note, 64468-2) and on March 26, 2008 in Japan (Blue Note, TOCJ-7100) with 3 bonus tracks.
  • Re-released on super high material compact disc on October 23, 2013 in Japan (Blue Note, CP-133).
  • Re-released on audiophile 2LP (180g vinyl, 45 rpm) in the US (Music Matters, 509999-14693).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *