The Prisoner, 1969
I’ve been listening, thinking, and writing about Herbie Hancock’s 1969 recordings for the second of my three historical chapters. These offer a running narrative with side journeys into some of the musical features. I’ve completed an early draft including passages about ‘The Prisoner’, Herbie’s final Blue Note release.
The personnel on ‘The Prisoner’ included the core of the Herbie Hancock Sextet that toured through Spring 1970: Johnny Coles on fluegelhorn, Joe Henderson on tenor saxophone and flute, Garnett Brown on trombone’ with a rhythm section led by Hancock on piano and, for the first time on one of his own recordings, electric piano, with Buster Williams offering a solid anchor on bass and Albert “Tootie” Heath on drums. But it is a richly orchestrated album, featuring a horn ensemble melding six voices, double the size of ‘Speak Like A Child’. The second horn trio varied between the two main sessions, with bass clarinet played by Romeo Penque or Jerome Richardson, with Richardson and Hubert Laws alternating on flute. Alternating on bass trombone was Tony Studd or Jack Jeffers.
Here goes some of it (remember that this is rough):
‘The Prisoner’ opens with ‘I Have a Dream’, a lyrical ballad buoyed by a samba beat. The first half of the melody, played on the flute, is supported with the richness of the two trombones. Additional horns and more complex harmonies back its second section. A bass clarinet announces the repetition of the tune, and counter melodies are played by the two trombones, flute, and piano. A third repetition of the tune is gently “sung” on fluegelhorn answered by the assembled horns. A rapidly fluttering figure by the flute offers filigree. A consort of horns complete this part of the melody, interrupted by a brief rhythmic figure. The fluegelhorn repeats the melody, this time backed by denser piano chordal comping. The tune then bounces between trombone and alto flute, with counter melodies appearing in various voices. A bridge leads to an elegantly stated piano solo, blues inflected towards the beginning, and unfolds by exploring variations off the melody in short phrases with intense beauty of line.
The title tune, ‘The Prisoner’ is a wild, intense romp, offering a soloistic vehicle for Joe Henderson, as he turns bits and pieces of melodic figures around and about, trying them out in multiple refractions, supported by intense drumming. The solo continues after a brief, unusual horn refrain with flute floating far above the rest. Hancock’s comping is at times spare, and always highly responsive to Henderson, reminiscent of some of Hancock’s playing behind Wayne Shorter and Miles Davis with the Davis Quintet. Piano and trumpet solos then follow.