February 13, 2015

Herbie Hancock - My Point Of View (1963)

My Point Of View had a lot to live up to after the surprise success of his debut, Takin' Off, and its single Watermelon Man. Even though My Point Of View is pretty much every bit as good as Takin' Off, it's still under appreciated, and I can't figure out why that's so.

It's clear that Blue Note was digging for more commercial success from how they promoted "Hancock's new composition 'Blind Man, Blind Man''' on the album cover. Blind Man, Blind Man's mellow funk is almost identical to Watermelon Man, but it does feature more musicians and evolves into something of its own. This wonderful song makes it clear that even though Blue Note was trying to turn the young Hancock into a star and subsequently generate record sales (which he did, but ironically not with this particular album and track), he could still create brilliant compositions which catered to the mainstream audience while traveling a ways into the 'new thing'.

And that's exactly what he does on My Point Of View. After leading off with the coolness of Blind Man, Blind Man, Herbie leaps into a considerably more modal framework. He holds on to hard bop all stars like Grant Green, Hank Mobley, and Donald Byrd, but he's also playing with the hottest post bop stars Anthony Williams and Grachan Moncur III.

This is probably some of the more adventurous stuff Mobley did, and it's also my favorite performance of his. You'll learn from my other reviews that I'm not a huge Mobley fan, but here, and I mean from the first note, he sounds different. If I hadn't seen his name on the cover, I would have thought this was Wayne Shorter. His note choice, spacing, and tone are all so much more mature than his other albums. He might have been a mediocre hard bop saxophonist, but I bet he could have been a star if he had explored on the modal side of things (a la Jackie McLean). Mobley's solo on King Cobra is a great example of what I'm talking about. Then there's Anthony Williams pushing the limits of bop and blues. His playing isn't too out there, but his rhythm is certainly different and he's not rooted in any specific time like the usual hard bop drummers. If I have any reservations about My Point Of View, it's that Grachan Moncur did not have a stronger presence. His one solo is fantastic though, and it's cool hearing him play in the more conventional style. He sounds great with Herbie in all of their appearances together (I think The All Seeing Eye and Some Other Stuff are the only other recorded meetings of the two), and their warm and cerebral undertones match perfectly. Donald Byrd keeps this album in the hard bop category and finds the necessary balance on the trumpet many listeners take for granted. He gave Herbie his start and they know how to play with each other. Grant Green is an added bonus and contributes some cool and chilly solos. Even though he had started with soul jazz primarily, his appearance here demonstrates his interest in the progressive jazz force. My Point Of View foreshadows his contribution to albums like Search For The New Land and Into Somethin'. This septet is glued together by Hancock, of course, and bassist Chuck Israels. Israels was Bill Evans' bassist for a while and knew his stuff about this kind of music. He soaks up everything the soloists put out there and works exceptionally well with Anthony Williams.

This is a huge lineup, and Hancock manages it well; showing his ability to control different arrangements with ease (you see it later in his career on Empyrean Isles). My Point Of View is no 'all star album' as Miles Davis would have described lineups consisting of himself, Dizzy Gillespie, Fats Navarro, JJ Johnson, Kai Winding, etc. Herbie uses the musicians when he needs to. He knows what they bring to the table, and they do too. It's all so naturally and strategically placed, and it makes me wish I was in the studio when this all went down.

My Point Of View is an amazing album in the middle of a huge and impressive discography. It's nearly every bit as good as Takin' Off, Maiden Voyage, and maybe even Empyrean Isles. If you're listening to those, you should be listening to this as well.


My Point Of View