Herbie Hancock is a jazz treasure, a living legend of the art form. His catalogue is so diverse, so dense that you could spend years analyzing his music and never get to the bottom of his varied contributions to American improvised music. He’s also one of the biggest hit-makers in Jazz. So, why would an album with no “stand-out” hits make the cut for our “Albums we Love” feature?
Hancock’s Fat Albert Rotunda is one of those albums that many fans consider a “must-have.” It’s a record that seemed to be recorded with the dominant medium of sonic delivery at the time – the LP record – in mind. After the first side ends, the listener is compelled to flip the record and begin the second side – and is rewarded dearly for doing so.
Recorded in 1968, and built upon a few pieces that Hancock wrote for Bill Cosby’s Fat Albert cartoon show, Fat Albert Rotunda is a journey in graceful and elegant funk-infused Jazz. Herbie had just left Miles Davis’ second great quintet and was working primarily with the electric Fender Rhodes piano, but opted to play it in a very different way for this recording. He also organized an all-star cast of musicians to play with him, like saxophonists Joe Henderson and Joe Farrell, bassist Buster Williams and drummers Tootie Heath and Bernard “Pretty” Purdie.
The album features the soul-jazz sounds of tunes like “Wiggle-Waggle” and “Fat Mama” which are buoyant, fun romps that not only feature great song-writing and improvisation, but possess a happy feeling that was missing from much of the music Herbie had been creating with Miles just months before. Also included are beautiful and sophisticated ballads like “Tell me a Bedtime Story” and “Jessica” which stand in start contrast to the rhythmic pulse of the albums primary tunes, but work, true to the nature of Hancock’s art.
Sure, it doesn’t have “Watermelon Man” or “Chameleon” or even “Rockit” but the Fat Albert Rotunda is Herbie Hancock at his finest, and a recommended listen the whole way through.