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Speak Like a Child: A Critical Analysis of Covers

Ben Gray
Contributing Writer
bengray417@gmail.com

Like ”I Have a Dream,” Herbie Hancock brought “Speak Like a Child” to the Miles Davis Quintet, unfortunately without ever recording a finished take. The rehearsals of this tune have been released on the collection The Miles Davis Quintet, 1965-1968: The Complete Columbia Studio Takes. The rehearsal version is an interesting window into the birth of “Speak Like a Child,” giving listeners a view of how Herbie Hancock’s approach to this tune would change. On this rehearsal version, Herbie is joined by Ron Carter on the bass, Tony Williams on drums, and a bit of Wayne Shorter’s sax in the intro (more from the rhythm section later…).

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Isn't She Lovely: A Critical Analysis of Covers

Ben Gray
Contributing Writer
bengray417@gmail.com

The last time you heard this song was probably while walking through the aisles of your grocery store. Its first appearance, though, was on Stevie Wonder’s 1976 album Songs in the Key of Life. It’s got a healthy dose of that 1976 cheese, and sounds dated (not necessarily in a bad way), but Stevie Wonder’s voice makes this work. The bounciness and groove belie a more sophisticated musical approach than most of what you’ll find on pop radio (or in your local grocery store) - the man has chops! Stevie takes a harmonica solo on this tune starting around 1:10, largely sticking to the melody he uses for the verses. There are a surprising number of layers here on close inspection - the basic drum track, a tambourine, and multiple synth lines behind the main keyboard chords. More harmonica around 2:15, slightly more ornamented than the earlier solo but still sticking fairly close to the song’s melody. This harmonica solo continues to the end of the tune as it fades out. I’m pleasantly surprised by how much is going on in Stevie Wonder’s songs on close listen, and this is no exception.

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Studio Vs Live: "Semente", "The Bucket Kicker", and "Hive"

Ben Gray
Contributing Writer
bengray417@gmail.com

In my last column on Wayne Shorter’s "Masqualero", the first two versions of the tune that I looked at were both performed by bands led by Miles Davis, featuring Shorter on sax. Some key differences, though, led to huge changes in the feel of the tune from its first appearance on the studio album Sorcerer to the live album recorded three years later, It’s About that Time. First, time passed and everyone’s approach to the music had evolved in that time; second, the composition of the band changed; and third, the song as it was performed live was hugely stretched out, and the energy of the room was certainly different in the live vs. the studio setting. For this column, I’ll look at three tunes composed much more recently than the others I’ve looked at for these columns and, similar to "Masqualero", look at how the tunes change over the period of a few years in a live vs. studio setting and with some personnel changes.

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Masqualero: A Critical Analysis of Covers

Ben Gray
Contributing Writer
bengray417@gmail.com

Following from my look at Wayne Shorter’s “ESP,” I wanted to look at another Shorter tune because his writing has been an important influence on modern jazz artists. “Masqualero” seemed like a good choice given the recent Halloween holiday (yes, I also considered “Witch Hunt”) and the excellence of this tune. Like “ESP,” “Masqualero” is a Wayne Shorter tune that is tightly associated with Miles Davis. The tune first showed up on Davis’ Sorcerer album in 1967, and remained in Davis’ live rotation for several years afterward.

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ESP: A Critical Analysis of Covers

Ben Gray
Contributing Writer
bengray417@gmail.com

Wayne Shorter’s “ESP” is the title track off of the first album from Miles Davis’ quintet with Shorter on sax, Herbie Hancock on piano, Ron Carter on bass, and Tony Williams on drums, released in 1965 (Shorter also contributed “Iris” to the group for this album). It’s a great tune, very recognizable as something written by Shorter (this tune could easily have fit in nicely on, say, Shorter’s Speak No Evil album), and yet as far as I can tell neither Davis nor Shorter ever revisited the tune live after the release of ESP.