Takin' Off

Herbie Hancock

Blue Note Records, 1962


REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


I have been reviewing music in some way, shape or form now for 18 years, and I freely admit there is a lot I still need to learn. As I've gotten older, I've come to appreciate the world of jazz, and have of late been greedily devouring as much jazz (especially what would be considered "be-bop") as I can get my hands on.

Yet I also know that my knowledge of jazz is extremely limited, and of specific artists even more so. So, when I try to discover an artist like Chicago-born pianist Herbie Hancock, I go right to the start -- in this case, Hancock's 1962 debut as a bandleader, Takin' Off.

The 22-year-old Hancock was already immersed in the jazz world, having cut his teeth as a sideman with such artists as Coleman Hawkins and Donald Byrd. Yet when it came time to assemble his first band, Hancock was no slouch in looking for talent. The tag-team duo of trumpeter Freddie Hubbard and tenor saxophonist Dexter Gordon complement Hancock's loping piano lines well, even if sometimes one finds themselves wishing that this three-man core would just break loose and let something rip.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Instead, Hancock and bandmates (rounded out by bassist Butch Warren and drummer Billy Higgins) take a controlled foray into the musical world, pounding out six originals by Hancock and quickly etching their place in jazz history. "Watermelon Man," the best-known selection on this disc, would soon achieve even higher fame thanks to the cover version by Mongo Santamaria.

It's interesting to note that, at times, Hubbard and Gordon's horn work dares to imitate a human voice; indeed, there are times on both "Watermelon Man" and "Empty Pockets" that one can imagine a vocalist adding their own contributions to the musical score. This is not meant as a slam against either musician or against Hancock; if anything, this helps the listener feel more at home with the material.

If there is a weakness to Takin' Off, it would be in the original album's closing number, "Alone And I.". After the controlled energy of numbers like "Three Bags Full," "The Maze" and "Driftin'," closing the disc with a ballad seems almost anti-climactic. It's still somewhat interesting to listen to, but to my ears, it's just not the right way to close things out.

The reissue of this album on CD tacks on three alternate takes, though none of them really add anything to the legacies of the songs. With the exception of a more staccato rhythm line on "Watermelon Man," there was precious little difference I could discern between the originals and the alternates.

The only other point of contention is that it takes several listens before you'll find yourself completely comfortable with this disc. Oh, sure, it's all time well spent, and you do find more to like with each successive listen, but not many people are going to have the time to dedicate to such an effort, much less the willingness to do so. Still, Takin' Off is rightfully seen as a jazz classic, and is a wonderful introduction of Hancock the bandleader to the world.

Rating: B

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© 2004 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Blue Note Records, and is used for informational purposes only.