Herbie Hancock's Fabulous but Least-Known Album

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Inventions and Dimensions (Blue Note,1963) is one of Herbie Hancock’s most unusual recordings.  One rumor has it that Miles Davis, whose band Herbie was about to join, told Herbie to go make a latin album.  This was probably because of Hancock’s cool recording of Mongo Santamaria’s classic “Watermelon Man”.

First of all, there’s the album cover.  Hancock, standing like Clint Eastwood (“make my day”) in the middle of an empty New York street.  Must have been taken early in the a.m., but when does New York City ever sleep.  Parked are classic 50s and 60s cars, with a Mercedes 280 SE on one side.  This was before Japanese cars took over the American market.

The most interesting thing is the personnel, some of whom had never worked together before (or after).  There’s the angular explorations by Herbie, his complex arpeggios and double octave lines, flawlessly executed with his precise and prodigious technique.  There’s the muscular backbone of Paul Chambers bass, never getting in the way of the music.

But most notable, the most fascinating thing on the album, is the presence of two great tropical latin percussionists.  Willie Bobo, who grew up in Spanish Harlem, is the trap drummer, but he plays the snares, tom tom’s, cymbals and high-hat in a very sycopated latin style.

His rhythmic dialogue with Cuban conga player Osvaldo “Chihuahua” Martinez is exceptional.  The two percussionists improvise, and constantly shift the rhythms as they riff off  each other.  It’s an amazing sound.  There are only five cuts on the album.  Two long cuts, “Triangle” and “Succotash” are my favorites.  I’ve listened to this album for decades and it never ceases to amaze me.

Herbie Hancock never made an album like this again.  I urge you to check it out.