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Empyrean Isles Original recording reissued, Original recording remastered

4.5 out of 5 stars 38 customer reviews

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Audio CD, Original recording reissued, Original recording remastered, March 23, 1999
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

Pianist and composer Herbie Hancock has had a long and varied career, during which he's enjoyed both creative and commercial success, though seldom at the same time. For many listeners, his creative peak came early, on two stunning Blue Note recordings, Maiden Voyage and the less celebrated Empyrean Isles. Recorded in 1964, Empyrean Isles is the earlier of the two and also the most radical. Hancock's quartet features Freddie Hubbard substituting a cornet for his usual trumpet, and getting a more burnished, slightly warmer sound. Without the jazz-typical saxophone present, Hancock's is almost a naked band, and the single horn blurs the lines between the pianist's mood-rich compositions and improvisation. The group uses the increased sense of space for intense collective creation, with Hancock and drummer Tony Williams pressing far beyond their instruments' usual roles and engaging Hubbard in edgy, complex dialogue, while bassist Ron Carter anchors the performances. Hubbard rises to the occasion with brilliance, responding to the stimulus with a fluency of thought and execution--a daring that built on his avant-garde experience with musicians like John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, and Eric Dolphy. From the breezy "Oliloqui Valley" to the funky "Cantaloupe Island" and on to the dissonance of the extended "Egg," this is one of the most significant documents of the Blue Note style that emerged in the mid-'60s. It's music that tests the balance of control and risk, and Hubbard's is also one of the great performances by a trumpeter in modern jazz. --Stuart Broomer
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Product Details

  • Audio CD (March 23, 1999)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Format: Original recording reissued, Original recording remastered
  • Label: Blue Note
  • Run Time: 54 minutes
  • ASIN: B00000I8UG
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #8,069 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Audio CD
Perhaps the best thing about _Empyrean Isles_ is that each musician individually really shines and is used to the maximum. Maybe the quartet format (as opposed to quintet) facilitated this effect; in any case, these four musicians hit on an incredible chemistry on the set documented on this album. Freddie Hubbard is incredibly deft and adroit in his playing here; his rapid flurries and runs conjure up images of sea spray, as they were also to do in the similarly-themed _Maiden Voyage_. His tone on cornet is very tasty. Bassist Ron Carter is fortunately not relegated to the background; he is as noticeable here as he was later to be in his playing with the Miles Davis Quintet; to wit, his remarkably intuitive and expressive solo on "Oliloqui Valley", and creative improvisatory contributions to "The Egg". Tony Williams on drums is ON FIRE, as usual (although he does sound kind of reined in on the midtempo "Cantaloupe Island"). And Hancock gets to showcase some of his most assured compositions ever, with his always colorful and distinctive style on the keyboard.
The inclusion of both the indelible signature Herbie tune "Cantaloupe Island" and the adventurous, creative group improvisation "The Egg" both in their own unique way make this an important album. But what I really love about _Empyrean Isles_, and what grabbed me about it at the first, is how spontaneous and energetic the whole thing sounds, especially as compared with the more self-conscious, somewhat overrated (albeit still plenty good) _Maiden Voyage_. If you're interested enough in Herbie Hancock to get that one, you shouldn't be without _Empyrean Isles_.
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Format: Audio CD
Listeners mainly familiar with Hancock'spost-"Headhunters" work will be surprised by thefree-flowing, challenging compositions the pianist took on with a stripped-down unit on "Empyrean Isles." The work on this release represents some of the best music from the cauldron of change that was jazz in the '60s. When he released "Empyrean Isles," Hancock had been with Miles Davis a year, and his work on the album shows how fully he had taken advantage of the freedom that Miles offered him. Pulling his rhythm mates, Ron Carter and Tony Williams, with him into the studio, Hancock added Freddie Hubbard on trumpet. The result is a record that sounds nothing like a Miles Davis album. Instead, the pianist was able to fully satisfy his penchant for light, shimmering, ethereal melodies and tones and complex compositions. Not that he ignores catchy rhythms; "Cantalope Island," is one of the most infectious tunes in jazz. But on "The Egg," Hancock stretches out with a long, challenging composition that features lots of space and freedom. It's a great cut, one that fully challenges and engages each of the top-flight members of the quartet. A great quartet it is. You'd expect Hancock, Williams and Carter to have no trouble meshing, and they are superb together. Freddie Hubbard, given the unenviable job of replacing Miles' trumpet, takes on the task fearlessly and turns in a great overall performance on the album. He showed his success was no fluke, by the way, on Hancock's follow-up, the equally successful and enjoyable "Maiden Voyage." "Empyrean Isles" is on the short list of great Blue Note albums, which puts it in very select company indeed. Take "Chameleon," "Palm Grease," and "Rock It" off the play rotation for a while and give a listen to what Hancock sounded like when he was taking composition and jazz utterly seriously. The results were impressive.
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Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
If you're thinking of upgrading from the previous release I would think twice. I have many of the new RVG remasters and have found most of them with improved sound, although some of them are just louder, not better. But this release is curious to say the least. While the bass is somewhat more prominent it is at the expense of the drums which are a major reason why this session worked. Mr. Williams sounds like he was in the next studio over, in the background, compared to the initial release.

I won't comment on the musical content as others have done a great job with that except to say that this is one of the finest Blue Note sessions ever recorded. At this writing there are a few used copies of the first remaster done by Ron McMaster. I would recommend that you grab that issue instead.
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Format: Audio CD
My knowledge of Herbie Hancock extends to five solo albums plus his work with Miles Davis, so I don't at all consider myself an expert on this guy. But this is my favorite Hancock album that I've heard. And yes, I know (and like) both Maiden Voyage and Headhunters, so don't tell me I don't know Herbie.

Anyway, the first thing to note is the guy behind the drum kit. That's right, Tony Williams is on this album. That should make it reason enough to buy it, no? Here's another. This record has the classic Canteloupe Island on it. Kind of like the original Watermelon Man (the one found on Takin' Off, that is) in that it's based around a simple funk-blues piano theme that becomes the launch pad for some stellar solos from cornet player Freddie Hubbard and Hancock himself. The Egg is also worth your while - its unpredictable structure messes with your head (it could've been three different songs!) and justifies the quarter-hour length. If I had this on vinyl, I could easily see myself spinning side 2 of this album to death.

To be honest, side one can't match up to side two. But I gave this five stars for a reason: Every song rules. One Finger Snap is an exciting, energetic piece of post-bop, and the ballad Oliloqui Valley boasts some melodic bass playing from Ron Carter. I like melodic bass playing.

This is a pure classic, plain and simple. A mix of modal jazz and blues - like Kind of Blue, only less blue. Maiden Voyage pales in comparison.
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