Monday, September 6, 2010

Herbie Hancock V.S.O.P. - The Quintet

   Herbie Hancock became a jazz star long time before greater audience had the chance to know his funk and electro-jazz albums. After brilliant making one’s way up in Sixties when he played in Oliver Nelson’s Big Band and legendary Miles Davis Quintet, he didn’t engage in jazz-rock movement. Of course he was in personnel of first Miles Davis’s jazz-rock recording sessions for In a Silent Way, Bitches Brew and many more but working on his own ideas he worked out the style that was closer to funk and more popular, dance music. It’s quite understandable – piano in fusion-jazz was a second-row instrument, in first were rock-guitar, jazz-saxophone and any other melodic instrument like violin or trumpet. So he hit groovy music on the jazz-soul-funk frontier where keyboard instruments were present from the gospell times. And this became his great commercial success. Maybe this popularity gave him intention to prove he was still a great and intellectual jazz pianist.
   Probably the first one of many periodically recurring projects of Herbie Hancock was the V.S.O.P. In may 1977 Hancock explained his own idea saying: „generations who never saw us perform in the Sixties will get a chance to see what we look like playing together”. In fact V.S.O.P. was nearly Miles Davis’ quintet from mid Sixties but with Freddie Hubbard playing trumpet and flugelhorn. Wayne Shorter who was always second soloist in Miles Davis quintet, here is more mature and conscious of himself. And his soprano and tenor saxophones sound really prolific, not just following the leader. Rhythm section were Ron Carter and Tony Williams and they were just like in Miles Davis recordings ten years before, both intellectually brilliant and emotionally deep. Spiritual binder and discrete leader of the group was Herbie Hancock. Like his piano states harmonic and rhythmic connection between rhythm section and melodic instruments, his idea of quintet without soloists, the group of equal jazz musicians became the real basis for creating great bunch of dynamically changing pictures of instrumental creation.

Herbie Hancock V.S.O.P. - The Quintet

   The Quintet by V.S.O.P. is an album recorded live during two gigs – July 16th, 1977 at The Greek Theatre in University of California in Berkeley and July 18th, 1977 at San Diego Civic Theatre. The tittles of compositions are: One of a Kind (Hubbard), Jessica (Hancock), Lawra (Williams), Dolores (Shorter), Third Plane (Carter), Byrdlike (Hubbard), Darts (Hancock) and Little Waltz (Carter). The best thing Hancock did as a leader was good balance between five artists. As critic of Dawn Beat noticed, listeners of the V.S.O.P. concerts „were thrilled by the charisma generated by five masters who listened to one another's inner ears, spoke to each other at multiple levels, and, no matter how dense the musical content, conveyed their messages to the audience with amazing clarity”.
   Maybe it is not a milestone in jazz recording history. Maybe even it is true that every musician of The V.S.O.P. Quintet made better performances on other albums, some of them with Miles Davis, some under their own names. But for me this is one of top jazz records in the history. The idea of modern but conservative group was introduced while choosing the name. It was postmodern per se and the same way understood by the public. In late 70’s musicians with hard-bop past in structure of typical modern quintet do not tried to be the avant-garde, but they built the two decades summary of modern jazz. And they did this in an unforgettable shape.

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