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Hold the Noodles!

A treatise on what makes jazz listenable via reviews of the new Herbie Hancock reissues.


The situation I listen to CDs I'm about to review under is this: alone, not doing anything else, maybe anticipating what I'm about to hear and how I'm going to put it into words. At times this is a tedious activity, even with music I generally choose to listen to.

The thing I find problematic about reviewing musicians of Herbie Hancock's stature is that they're almost as critic- proof as top forty radio. What can you say and who's going to argue?

With VSOP, all the musicians involved (Herbie Hancock in addition to Tony Williams, Wayne Shorter, Freddie Hubbard, Ron Carter, Buster Williams and Ben Riley) may have made some critically divisive moves (Herbie Hancock was going through his electric phase, Wayne Shorter was with Weather Report, Buster Williams, Tony Williams and Ben Riley were also working a fusion circuit) but are generally beyond anybody's journalistic reprimand, meaning praise is just as useless. I could reduce the CDs to vague, generalized crit-speak: thick, soulful melodicism, fluid improvisation, sinuous rhythm section, drumming and sometimes overwrought brass arrangements may come off as hamfisted to puritans- but that tells you nothing about the music on it, really.

So, again, what is there to say? It's established musicians playing established compositions. All waltzes to Frank Lloyd Wright notwithstanding, the reason listening to music for review becomes tiresome is because musicians, even (sometimes especially) the great and legendary, are indulgent as fuck. The VSOP CDs are an example. Sure, maybe they were propelled by the momentum of the audience and the momentum of each other in a live setting, but I have a hard time finding justification for fourteen to twenty minutes spent on a single number. Especially given that, on disc one, a good chunk of that number is given to the kind of drum solo that's become a running joke among rock audiences. It's this very indulgence, I think, that's separated jazz from its roots as American popular music and turned off a good part of its original audience, which in turn paved the way for fusions uglier cousin to become the casual listeners answer to "jazz". Don't look at me, I find Kenny G as unlistenable as anyone else, but to people who want to say they listen to jazz and don't want to wade through ten minutes of solo he's accessible.

Then again, maybe it's just the circumstances I'm listening under. The same exact number might sound great if I were, say, washing dishes or grouting my bathroom or punching numbers into a cash register. It would probably sound even better if I were sitting around with friends who actively listen, make comments, raise eyebrows either in mockery or admiration and then pass the joint over. As it stands now, to my ears, Live Under the Sky is more for the audience who was there at the time.

The Piano is much easier to take in, given the circumstances. It's just Herbie Hancock and his piano, meaning he's more prone to self editing and realizes an effective tapestry can be weaved off of the themes in less than five minutes. The beauty of it all is, of course, its simplicity and it's brevity. I can only strive for the same in reviewing it.


Herbie Hancock - The Piano 8.2/10 VSOP- Live Under the Sky I and II 6.5/10.  Review by Ollie Hunt.


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