Jun 17, 2014
"If someone had ordered up a program that explored four distinct areas of jazz expression with equal brilliance, they could not have done better than Empyrean Isles. It is as if Hancock had set out to present 'changes,' modal, funk and free playing and delivered each at its apex." - Bob Blumenthal.
Herbie Hancock had already released three albums as a leader when he entered Van Gelder Studios in New Jersey fifty years ago today. At the age of 24, he ws riding high - his debut album had spawned the hit "Watermelon Man", and he was anchoring what would become Miles Davis' Second Great Quintet. In fact, fellow band mates Tony Williams (drums) and Ron Carter (bass) joined him on the sessions, along with Blue Note regular and friend Freddie Hubbard.
Hancock brough with him that day two tunes that would become synonymous with his pre-electric output - "One Finger Snap" and "Canteloupe Island". Both are classics in every sense of the word, and have become part of the jazz standards repetoire. Two other songs - "Oliloqui Valley" and the lengthy "The Egg" were recorded and completed the sessions.
By the time the album was released later in the year, Hancock was deep into writing and arranging material that would appear in 1965 on his greatest acoustic album, Maiden Voyage. The Davis Quintet would formally add Wayne Shorter at saxophone in Autumn 1964, and begin work on E.S.P. in January 1965.