This week I review two upcoming releases via Sony/Legacy, including a previously unreleased live Jimi Hendrix disc and the complete Columbia works of Herbie Hancock.
The Jimi Hendrix Experience - "Live at the Miami Pop Festival"
It's always been astounding to me the amount of material Jimi Hendrix generated during his very short moment of fame.
In a little more than three years an astonishing amount of Hendrix recordings - most, top notch - have been released by various record companies over the years, including Dagger Records, run by the Hendrix estate, which features better-than-bootleg quality releases of live shows taped by, well - who knows?
I would have to say that every show Hendrix ever played has been taped and is hands of someone. While live Hendrix bootlegs have been around forever, the amount of material since Sony/Legacy acquired the rights to release material with permission from the estate has been revealing.
In fact, I've been fooled several times, thinking to myself, "This has to be the last unheard Hendrix release - there can't possibly be more quality material out there."
I've been fooled again.
I thought I'd heard everything there is to hear, but "Live at Miami Pop Festival" - I didn't even know there was one - apparently occurred in 1968, according to liner notes. Organized by Michael Lang, who went on to organize another famous festival known as Woodstock, the festival seemed to be another slapdash, haphazard event, as most early bigger festivals were in those days.
Slated to appear there were some pretty cool acts, including Frank Zappa and his band the Mothers of Invention; Steppenwolf; Blue Cheer; Chuck Berry; bluesman John Lee Hooker; the Crazy World of Arthur Brown and Hendrix, who was the headliner.
Without going into greater detail here, it seemed like another typical stop in the Experience's never-ending touring schedule, only half the festival was rained out.
Hendrix did get to perform one strong set with bandmates Mitch Mitchell on drums and Noel Redding on bass, and Hendrix was literally on fire.
I've heard some live performances where Hendrix was obviously bored or frustrated or just not playing his best, but that's not the case with "Live at the Miami Pop Festival."
Whether he just had enough sleep or was turned on by the large attendance, this is one of the best early, live Experience recordings I've heard. Even on the old chestnuts, such as "Foxy Lady" and "Fire," the band is positively riveting, with Hendrix especially playing with gusto and verve.
The real winner is a magnificent version of "Hear My Train A-Comin," where Hendrix's brutally ecstatic guitar work is mind-bending. Other highlights include the jam tune "Tax Free," "Hey Joe," "I Don't Live Today," "Red House" and Purple Haze," where Hendrix sounds equally compelling.
The album is set to be released on Nov. 5 on CD, mp33 and vinyl. Another added Hendrix bonus is a documentary, "Here My Train A-Comin,'" also set to be released Nov. 5 with never-before-seen footage. For Hendrix freaks as myself, that day is shaping up to be one for the calendar.
Herbie Hancock - "The Complete Columbia Album Collection 1972-1988"
OK, I'll say this about the set - it's huge. So large, in fact, it's taken 34 CDs to house all of the jazz/funk keyboardist's material recorded over the span of 31 albums. You better like Herbie - a lot - before investing in this monster, although Columbia has released complete collections with even more CDs (Tony Bennett, Miles Davis, which are both over the 50-CD mark). Not that Herbie doesn't warrant the same respect and examination of his recorded years with Columbia, which promise some of the sublime, the just-Ok and even some truly mediocre material.
The really great stuff was recorded early in his years. Hancock released his first-ever solo album on Blue Note records as a young, prodigious and progressive player with a totally unique approach to jazz.
He kept recording for Blue Note all through the 1960s while also being in one of the greatest jazz bands ever - the second Miles Davis Quintet, with Miles, bassist Ron Carter, saxophonist Wayne Shorter and drummer Tony Williams. The telepathic interplay in this jazz group has never been equaled to this day, and Hancock could have been remembered for that alone.
But after leaving Miles, Herbie put together a band that recorded one very "out there" album - "Mawandishi," which I love -before deciding to create the Herbie Hancock Sextet, the first album after being signed to Columbia Records.
That album features a band equally at home with progressive, blues-based funk as well as being accessible enough for the public's ears.
Hancock and band really hit the mark on "Headhunters," which is one of my all-time favorite Herbie albums. "Dedication" and "Thrust" were just as good, and I've always joked the best Herbie Hancock Columbia records were the ones where's he's sporting an afro.
"Man-Child" and "Secrets" were OK, while the V.S.O.P. string of albums featuring Carter, Shorter, Herbie, Williams and trumpet player Freddie Hubbard sort of standing in for Miles just miss the mark entirely.
None of them have the vibe of the original quintet albums, which only goes to show there was alchemy in Miles' presence that defined those wonderful mid-60s albums.
Some of Herbie's late '70s albums such as "Monster" were little more than easy listening throwaways as Hancock struggled to find a way to be relevant again.
Eventually he did, with entirely new sounds - raw, exciting and urbanized. That's how he began with the 1980s with "Future Shock" and "Sound-System," with his monster hit "Rockit," a fusion of funk and cutting-edge hip-hop inspired dance floor nirvana that defined the early '80s. Herbie also was heavily involved in the soundtrack to the jazz movie "'Round Midnight" starring jazz saxophonist Dexter Gordon, and that's also included here.
The package also comes with a 200-page book chronicling Hancock's career, and I'm sure that's a worthy read.
Overall, Herbie Hancock has had an amazing career, and while there are some slumps and hit-and-misses in his career, it's a testament to his talents Legacy saw fit to release such a comprehensive retrospective on this giant of jazz, funk and popular music. The set will be released on Nov. 12.