Maiden Voyage

Maiden Voyage

Maiden Voyage sounds like the title of a debut, but it was Herbie Hancock’s fifth outing for Blue Note, recorded all in one day in March 1965, when the young piano master was in the thick of his association with the trailblazing Miles Davis Quintet. The Maiden Voyage lineup was in fact a version of Davis’ band, with Freddie Hubbard on trumpet in place of Davis, Wayne Shorter’s predecessor George Coleman on tenor saxophone, and the unrivaled rhythm section of bassist Ron Carter and drummer Tony Williams. (The same lineup, without Coleman, appeared on Hancock’s Empyrean Isles in 1964.) The short yet impactful program includes some of Hancock’s most famous and widely played compositions, including the title track, with its mesmerizing vamp and hovering chords; “The Eye of the Hurricane,” with its darting obstacle course of a theme leading to galloping minor-key blues; and “Dolphin Dance,” a model of advanced harmony and lyrical songcraft, the perfect modern midtempo swing tune to bring it to a close. “Survival of the Fittest” points to a kind of open-form improvisation that Tony Williams and others on Blue Note were exploring at this time. (“The Egg” from Empyrean Isles is another specimen.) And “Little One,” recorded in rawer form by the Miles Davis Quintet two months earlier for the album E.S.P., gains a bit more expressive clarity here in the out-of-tempo passages (the contrast between the Shorter and Coleman tenor solos also proves fascinating). Arguably, it’s “Little One” that best captures the album’s dark and magical mood, which Nora Kelly sought to evoke in her impressionist liner notes: “A single ship, perhaps on her maiden voyage, her mast a black spike against the sky, hovers near the horizon, until the curving waters sink her sail from view.”

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