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April 11, 1971 - Image 20

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The Michigan Daily, 1971-04-11
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9
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HERBIE HANCOCK
Profiles of a jazz musician

Records:

4

Biggs,

Ormady,

HERBIE
HANCOCK
SEXTET
Apr. 26-Monday
Apr. 27-Tuesday
Apr. 28-Wednesday
TWO COMPLETE SHOWS
EACH NIGHT 9:30 AND 1 1:30
Doors open at 9:00

By RON.ENGLISH
Those of us who listen to jazz
know why we do: beyond its
value as a sophisticated aesthe-
tic entertainment, this music is
(as Heraclitus said the ancient
religious rites were) a cure for
the soul. What the musician
needs to hear, he creates; what
his soul can use, ours can use.
And what distinguishes jazz cre-
ation from other high art, mu-
sical and non-musical, is its
contingent immediacy. What a
man like Herbie Hancock needs
to create on any day is contin-
gent to some extent (given his
order of creativity and virtuos-
ity) upon his fellow players and
their expressive needs, and upon
the audience and its needs and
ability to participate (however
passively) in the flow of psychic
energies. (After Hancock and
the sextet he leads appeared last
year in Detroit, he and the other
musicians expressed some sur-
prise and delight at the energy
level in which they found them-
selves playing, which they at-
tributed to the local ambience
and the specific involvement of
their audiences.)
Jazz composition, f r o m the
"Classic" p e r i o d onward, has
been largely a matter of design-
ing themes and formal frame-
works for that expressive col-
lective spontaneity. Hancock's
achievement, as a pianist, com-
poser and leader, has been with-
in this broad movement. Like
many other seminal figures of
the last ten years, Hancock has
developed toward increasingly
sophisticated rhythmic and har-
monic matrices for improvising,
such as would yield a large va-
riety of dramatic shapes and a
richly expressive vocabulary of
textures.
This expansion and sophisti-
cation can be heard beginning
with Herbie's fourth album as a
leader, Empyrean Isles, continu-
ing through the inflential Maid-
en Voyage and the more subtle
lyricism of The Prisoner, Speak
Like a Child, (all on Blue Note)
and the record featuring his
current sextet, Mwandishi (on
Warner Bros.). His develop-
ment as a pianist and member
of one of jazz' most influential
rhythm sections can also be
heard on the 11 albums he made
with the Miles Davis quintet of
1968-69.
In Hancock's work there re-
main, though, those "folk" ele-
ments audible in the music of
jazz figures as diverse as Duke
Ellington, Charlie Parker, Hor-
ace Silver and Ornette Coleman.
Jazz has always maintained a
close vitalizing relationship with
its roots in the folk tradition,
which extends to Mother Africa,
as Dizzy Gillespie put it, and
which expresses itself today in
the cats singing on the corner,
the church choir with rhythm
section, and the high school
drummers working out their hip
routines. This latter, by the way,
has a lot to do with Motown
drumming and the whole boog-

aloo phenomenon. That particu-
lar rhythmic development is, as
a matter of fact, the folk ele-
ment most prominent in several
of Hancock's compositions. Es-
sentially, a duple metric flow
w i t h shifting syncopated ac-
cents, either on the 8th note
(as in bossa nova) or 16 note
stratum (as in boogaloo), it is a
pervasive e 1 e m e n t in today's
popular musics.
The "vitalizing" relationship
I spoke of works both ways:
Hancock's "Watermelon M a n"
(popularized by Mongo Santa-
maria's Latin band) is by no
means the property of the jazz
audience only, and is played by
musicians and demanded by au-
diences who have little if any
awareness of Herbie or the rest
of his art. (This odd state of
affairs is due in large part to

incidental music for Bill Cosby's
Fat Albert Rotunda, a TV spe-
cial (both of which are avail-
able on record, both commer-
cially successful, leading to Her-
bie's Grammy award nomina-
tion for Fat Albert), as well as
a flock of TV commercials for
Eastern Airlines, Pacquins, and
others.
All of which brings up the
sticky question of patronage.
Herbie's position today is a
poignant one, reflective of the
stance of jazz music as a whole.
Today, the record industry is
in a state of flux, casting about
desperately for the next craze.
Filmmakers, advertisers a n d
university m u s i c departments
have also been eyeing jazzmen.
Unfortunately, with the patron-
age of the powerful often come
strictures on the music, and on

By DONALD SOSIN
RCA has just released a re-
cording of works by contempor-
ary Czech composers (LSC-
3181), and for all the promise
that this might suggest (none
of the works having been avail-
able here before), the disc is a
disappointment.
The major work is the Vocal
Symphony (1963) of Vladimir
Sommer. He is a meticulous
craftsman, the liner notes in-
form us, but this does not pre-
vent his work from sounding
terribly cliched in places. How-
ever well constructed, the sounds
are those of Honegger and Pro-
kofiev, and sometimes even re-
miniscent of Hoffnung c o n -
certs, which were anything but
original and serious. The work
is in three movements, the text
in each having to do with death,
commented upon by Kafka,
Dostoevsky, and Pavese. The
first movement is a solo for
mezzo-soprano and orchestra.
Nancy Williams does a credit-
able job, with the London Sym-
phony directed by Igor Buket-
off, who wrote the insipid jack-
et notes. sHis musicianship is
somewhat better, though, and
the performance does not lack in
emotional qualities. But it is all
too often a wasted effort, as in
the second movement, w h e r e
Raskolnikov's dream from Crime
and Punishment is recounted.
A narrator (Peter Ustinov) is
continually interrupted by punc-
tuation by the chorus (The Am-
brosian Singers) and the total
effect is more absurd than an
accurate reflection of the na-
ture of the words. What came
immediately to mind was the
parody "Horrortorio" on t h e
Hoffnung Astronautical Musi-
cal Festival album, so similarly
is the chorus treated. And the
third movement frequently
sounds like the slow movement
of Prokofiev's Fifth Symphony,
a fact which the notes mention.
But this distracts more than
contributes to the impact of the
work, and one comes away with
the feeling of having heard it
all before.
The Soviet government can
still set forth doctrines about
composition, and have works
produced of great mass appeal
but little intellectual susten-
ance; one would have hoped that
the Czech government, still lib-
eral and progressive in 1965,
would have done other than
awarded the work the State
Prize.
Also represented on the disc
are two younger Czechs, J a n
Klusak and Lubos Fiser. T h e
former's First Invention for a
small instrumental, ensemble is
serial, and although the 1961
work may have been among "the
first Czech works to make con-
tinuous use of Webern's c o m -
positional technique," the piece

sounds a grea deal more like
Berg, for all the tonal refer-
ences one finds, or Schoenberg,
for its unifying rhythmic mo-
tives.
Fiser's 15 Prints After Dur-
er's "Apocalypse" makes use of
a six-note theme, from which
all melodic and harmonic ele-
ments are derived. One h e a r s
constant use of the tritone, and
in the background a woodblock
beats out time while the play-
ers improvise within limits set
by the conductor. More interest-
ing than the Klusak piece, it
nevertheless sounds dated; cer-

sound of these organs, including
the oldest organ in Britain, lo-
cated in Cheshire, and a Regal,
actually a reed instrument (as
opposed to pipe) with an alto-
gether different tone quality
than anything else heard on the
album.
* * *
Eugene Ormandy conducts the
Philadelphia Orchestra on a new
Columbia issue entitled Ballet
Fantastique. (M 30463) If in the
Biggs one listened mainly for
sound rather than musical con-
tent, the same is true here. This
is one of a series featuring the

"Biggs covers a number of short works by Eng-
lish composers including Stanley, Purcell, and
Handel. One listens primarily for the distinc-
tive sound of the old English organs, including
the oldest organ in Britain located in Ches-
hire."

tion has created a wonderful,
witty piece of music. The "Can-
Can" and "Galop" are particu-
larly charming. The perform-
ance is not as good as the sound,
however. There is a heaviness in
many places which destroys the
airiness that give the music val-
ue. One has only to listen to the
Israel Philharmonic's record-
ing with Solti to hear w h a t
might have been done with it,
even though their sound is no
match for Philadelphia's.
On the other side we have two
more ballet suites, those f r o m
Giselle, by Adam, and Les Pa-
tineurs, by Meyerbeer. Both
works have extensive recording
histories, and here are only vehi-
cles for impressive tonal dis-
plays. Musically they fare as
the Respighi does, too ponder-
ous and are not as interesting to
listen to.
* * *
Also on Columbia are two new
recordings of the New York Phi-
harmonic under Bernstein. The
first is Nielsen's Symphony No.
4, "Inextinguishable" (M 30293).
Bernisten, as he has done with
Ives and Mahler, has revived in-
terest in this Danish composer,
and gives a fine performance of
this powerful, foreboding work.
His version of Strauss' Also
Sprach Zarathustra (M 30443)
does not fare as well. One miss-
es any sense of awe in the well-
known, dramatic opening, and
the playing is lacking in dy-
namism as well as precision in
too many places for it to be re-
commended by this listener. Or-
mandy's recording is still t h e
most satisfying he has heard,
for it has all these qualities, as
well as his "faculous Philadel-
phia sound."

and the Czechs

I
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the vagaries of the music "in-
dustry" in this country, of which.
more in a minute.) Herbie has
remarked on several occasions
that, beyond its intrinsic musi-
cal interest and possibility, this
rhythmic element has attracted
him as a means to reach more
people with his art.
Hancock quite cle arly has
reached the jazz people; the
young voters in Downbeat's an-
nual readers poll have named
him their favorite pianist for
the last three years. The richly
expressive vocabulary H e r b i e
has developed, capable of pro-
jecting subtle images and emo-
tional states, and the accessi-
bility of the folk elements in his
work h a v e evidently reached
other artists,as well as the Cap-
tains of Industry (yes) ; and so
he has composed the score to
Antonioni's Blow Up, and the

the artist's creative time and
energy. What is to my mind
worse and ultimately corrupting
is the ugly and unmistakeable
effort on the part of enormous
conglomerates such as Trans-
america Corporation to mnopo-
lize (and standardize?) black
art and entertainment. (Trans-
america now owns Blue Note
and World Pacific records, for-
merly two of the outstanding
jazz independents, and such
films as Cotton Comes to Har-
lem.) What is ugly about it is
that such firms (indeed, most
of the music industry, operate
on what Charles Moore of the
Contemporary Jazz Quintet calls
"the Top 40 mentality of plan-
ned obsolescence." It works this.
way: find a music of energy and
freshness with some popular ap-
peal, reduce it to a fixed set of
(Continued on Page 19)

tainly none of these compos-
ers are trend-setters, as are their
Polish contemporaries.
E. Power Biggs has added yet
another title to his list of over
forty recordings. On previous
albums he has presented exam-
ples of historic organs of Swit-
zerland, Spain, Italy and France.
Latest in this series is Historic
Organs of England (Columbia M
30445). What is most interest-
ing is the contrast in character
among these instruments a n d
those on the other recordings.
One can hear that each coun-
try's instruments have a dis-
tinct flavor, Spain's are darker
and brassier in tone, while the
Italian and Swiss are rich, with
many stops and often unusual
effects. The English instruments
heard here are more modest,
owing to the fact that they are
not church organs as in the
other discs, but smaller instru-
ments located in baronial halls
throughout the country. Biggs
explains that, although t h e
country once boasted fine or-
gans dating back tothe 12th
century, many of these were de-
stroyed in the Great Fire of
1666, while others were the vic-
tims of poor rebuilding in the
last century.
Thus Dunstable's Agincourt
Hymn, for example, has a more
intimate sound here than on a
large church organ on the Swiss
collection. Biggs covers a num-
ber of short works by English
composers from this early ef-
fort to those of John Stanley in
the mid 1700's, touching on men
like Tallis, Purcell and Handel
along, the way. The pieces are of
secondary importance. One list-
ens primarily for the distinctive

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The sound is indeed excellent,
although the sound of harps next
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Side One is devoted to La Bou-
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Page Ten THE MICHIGAN DAILY

Sunday, April II 1971 Sunday,-April 11, 1971

THE MICHIGAN DAILY

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