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Empyrean Isles Original recording reissued, Original recording remastered

4.5 out of 5 stars 39 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

Herbie Hancock's fourth Blue Note album with Freddie Hubbard, Ron Carter and Tony Williams defined the sound that his jazz work would carry to this day: funk, delicate harmonies and experimental improvisation all somehow working together. "One Finger Snap" and, of course, "Cantaloupe Island" have become jazz classics.
Includes two bonus tracks.


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 (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #15,989 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Micah Newman on January 3, 2003
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: MP3 Music Verified Purchase
I've been picking up Blue Note's re-releases of Herbie Hancock's work, and each one has been wonderfully mastered, with gorgeous cover art. While not the gatefold of Speak Like a Child, Empyrean Isles does not disappoint by any stretch of the imagination.

In terms of the quality of the album as a vinyl re-release, you absolutely won't be disappointed at this price. Admittedly, I wouldn't have minded the inclusion of both alternate A-side takes that CD owners receive as bonus tracks -- but then again, the purist in me is happy to get to buy this album "new" and not "improved". (Excellent side note here: If you buy this from Amazon, you get the bonus tracks to download through AutoRip!)

As for the content, I've considered Empyrean Isles to be one of the gateways from a fan of jazz standards to be able to discover and enjoy jazz fusion. Moreover, I think anyone familiar with early jazz fusion (particularly some of Weather Report's more popular work) will find undeniable influences in The Egg, which is propelled by the preceding Cantaloupe Island.

Taking that from a completely different perspective, if you're introducing someone to more "traditional" jazz standards (or if you're discovering them yourself), the road goes both ways. If you're not approaching the album with a hard set list of what jazz "should" be, I think this is an incredibly accessible album for modern listeners.
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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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