Joe Henderson – Power To The People (1969)

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It’s hard to delve too much into 1960s jazz without coming across tenorman’s Joe Henderson’s name both as a leader and a sideman. And although I’ve managed to avoid devoting this space for a full fledged review of a selection out his rich catalog until now, he’s gotten plenty of mention from me. He was there on pivotal jazz releases like Larry Young’s Unity and Freddie Hubbard’s Red Clay, while his Page One debut album as a leader landed a spot on my Five Fantastic Debut Albums of Jazz list. As succinctly put by my blogmate Nick Deriso, Henderson’s horn was “a dash of Coltrane and Rollins, but with a heavy dose of welcome romanticism.”

Just last month Joe’s name popped up again in my review of Herbie Hancock’s Fat Albert Rotunda. It was 1969 and Henderson was a member of Hancock’s sextet, the one that recorded this album and The Prisoner earlier in the year. Having gone two years without recording his own record, Henderson took a break from touring with the band in May of that year, took the bandleader into the studio with him and recorded Power To The People.

Complemented by a full array of top tier musicians like Hancock (keyboards), Ron Carter (bass), Jack deJohnette (drums), and Mike Lawrence (trumpet), Henderson assured that his record wouldn’t be wanting for musicianship. But top-notch support was already a given on Henderson records.

Rather, the distinguishing feature of this album is that for the first time, Henderson begins to deviate from the hard bop formula that served as the template for all his prior releases. Being that this was the late sixties, the times were rapidly changing, and songs titles like “Power To The People” and “Afro Centric” were indicative of the shifting attitudes of that time, especially with the younger generation (even though Henderson was already over thirty at the time of these recording sessions).

Likewise, the music itself was updated; for the first time on a Henderson album, electronic instruments were used on some tracks. This came in the form of Herbie Hancock’s Fender Rhodes and Ron Carter’s electric bass. But Henderson cautiously dipped his toes in the waters of contemporary music; this isn’t the full plunge into fusion taken in recording sessions Hancock participated in just four months earlier: Miles Davis’ In A Silent Way.

Instead, Henderson treats us to a wide palette ranging from proto-fusion to bop to free jazz. And why not? He was equally capable of handling it all.

Starting with the delicate waltz “Black Narcissus”, Henderson employs gentle touch on the tenor while Hancock provides pastel figures on the Rhodes and Carter flutters to the upper register of his acoustic bass in his trademark style. Another Henderson original, the shuffling “Afro-Centric,” again has Hancock on electric piano and here he provides a thoughtful solo.

The Carter composition “Opus One-Point-Five” is all acoustic, and it’s a low-key dark mood piece that sounds like an outtake from Davis’ Nefertiti. Following that is a delightful straight bop number, “Isotope,” in its original form, a showcase for Joe’s Sonny Rollins influence. Henderson would go on to feature this song for many years in his live performances, including the widely-acclaimed 1985 renaissance recordings of The State Of The Tenor.

The title track is similar in style of “Afro-Centric” but more urgent-sounding. Henderson, Lawrence and Hancock all turn in competent solos. A straightforward rendition of “Lazy Afternoon,”—the only standard of the set—follows.

The album closes with a bit of a curveball: Henderson sent Hancock away and with the rest of the band came up with the totally improvised piece “Foresight and Afterthought (An Impromptu Suite in Three Movements).” DeJohnette’s drumwork is impressive in the fast-paced first section; Henderson displays his ‘Trane side and then his recognizable “outside” technique in the next one.

With this crew, it was nice to see the boys stretch out…even if Hancock wasn’t around. The pianoless format foreshadowed Henderson’s more frequent use of a rhythm section without chordal instruments. I always thought you have to be a phenomenal sax player to get away with doing that, and Joe gets away with it handily.

Like every release Joe Henderson recorded prior to his late-career stint with Verve Records in the nineties, Power To The People failed to have much commercial impact. But even the belated interest in his work didn’t revive sales of this album, because Fantasy Records inexplicitly left off this album off the CD release list, save for being a part of the eight-CD box set Joe Henderson – The Milestone Years.

Finally, the record’s original producer Orrin Keepnews took matters into his own hands and released it earlier this year as part of his “Keepnews Collection” series.

And thus, in a nicely remastered form, Joe Henderson’s lost classic from 1969 is finally available to those not fortunate to have scored an old vinyl after all these years. It might not be the first Henderson to seek out but you’ll never find his music more varied and backed by a better band.

Keepnews made sure it was well worth the wait.


S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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