Power to the People
First Appeared in The Music Box, February 2008, Volume 15, #2
Written by John Metzger
Mon February 11, 2008, 09:15 AM CST
Saxophonist Joe Henderson might not have the name recognition of John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Wayne Shorter, or Charlie Parker, but nearly four decades after it was recorded, his 1969 set Power to the People remains a remarkably impressive endeavor. Even if he wasn’t commercially successful until very late in his career, there’s little doubt that — from his hit-seeking effort Black Miracle to his tributes to Billy Strayhorn and Antonio Carlos Jobim — Henderson always had his eye on the market, and Power to the People was no exception. Throughout the album, he essentially retraced the steps that Miles Davis had taken as he moved from E.S.P. to In a Silent Way, though Henderson also was prescient enough to know what was coming next. Although it never quite reached the same level of transcendence, Black Narcissus, the opening track from Power to the People, certainly foreshadowed the steamy, soupiness of Bitches Brew.
It helped, of course, that in making Power to the People, Henderson tapped bass player Ron Carter, keyboardist Herbie Hancock, and drummer Jack DeJohnette to support him. At the time, both Carter and Hancock were longstanding veterans of Davis’ ensemble, and DeJohnette soon would become an instrumental force in shaping Davis’ rhythmic forays. In spite of its obvious intent to fit within the existing and expanding jazz framework, Power to the People managed to move beyond its influences and assume its own identity.
Poised between fusion and hard bop, Power to the People is a study in tension and release. It is marked by fluctuating dynamics and shifting moods, and throughout the set, Henderson’s saxophone solos are framed by Hancock’s aqueous piano accompaniments on one side and the rippling, rhythmic churning created by Carter and DeJohnette on the other. There are moments when Henderson plays so quietly, that the sounds emanating from his instrument amount to nothing more than a barely audible whisper. As such, he craftily draws the listener into the dark but alluring patterns that he paints across the faces of Black Narcissus and Open-One-Point-Five. On Lazy Afternoon, he simply delivers notes that ring true with lyrical beauty.
At other times on Power to the People, Henderson wields his saxophone like a weapon. Spurred by the braided, rhythmic undertow of his ensemble, he assaults the melody of Isotope as well as the free-form expanses of Foresight and Afterthought (An Impromptu Suite), displaying an air of aggressive and occasionally manic intensity. Sounding like a disciple of Maynard Ferguson, trumpeter Mike Lawrence joins the fray on Afro-Centric and the title track, and he and Henderson dodge and weave as they ride upon the songs’ currents.
Power to the People might not have found an audience when it initially was released. Regardless, its music has aged quite well over the years. With any luck, its long overdue issuance as a standalone CD ought to go a long way toward igniting interest in its unjustly dismissed contents.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2008 The Music Box