Herbie Hancock, River: The Joni Letters

Having read favorable comments on this disc in the likes of Hi Fi+, I purchased this cd over the weekend. What a huge disappointment! This recording is compressed to a significant degree and even worse is a spitty/crackly sound to the vocals and some of the spot miked instruments. It sounds like a poor cable connection or bad pot in the mixing/monitor console. I have not tried to play it on my truck cd/stereo to find if it is any more listenable.

I would be interested to hear if anyone else is similarily disappointed with the sonics of this disc. BTW, it sounds really bad on both of my home systems.
I received this disc last week but sill in the plastic wrap. I'll listen to it this week and let you know
You're picking nits. What's your opinion of the music and performances?
The sonics are lousy, the singing compared to Joni's original is uninspired and artificial and HH has gone completely commercial. That, for what it is worth, is my view on this. To me it was a huge disappointment in every respect, sonically as well as artistically.
Many years ago I worked with Herbie on a track for one of my clients. The man is meticulous. Besides that he works in his choice of facilities with his choice of engineers and musicians. But mostly he is meticulous.

So after reading your post, when I put on River (hard drive transport ripped from a CD) I was inclined to believe that anything I heard was because he wanted me to. And that's what I concluded though I think "I hear what you're talking about".

To my ear the album does not sound heavily compressed. What I did hear is a lot of high frequency cymbal and brush work mixed right up against the vocals.

I also noticed that on Edith and The Kingpin he doubled Tina Turner with a horn - since Wayne Shorter is on it I would say sax but since its Herbie it could be some kind of synth that he blew into. The way it was mixed in a couple of spots it certainly creates the impression that there is some distortion but I really think its two separate tracks (doesn't make it lovely though) Other then that its a stunning cover of the song and one a lot of people point to as their favorite.

At about 2:54 on Both Sides Now you get another one of those strange combinations of piano and cymbal ride - I can see why one might think that it sounds distorted. On Tea Leaf at 1:45 you get another one of those odd sounds - sounds like some sort of breath driven synth.

To answer Onhwy61 - its Herbie. Some really liquid piano, interesting arrangements, not too far out - some people feel like he reined it in too much. Then again Avante Garde jazz rarely wins Grammies. Though I think people who call it soft jazz are not accurate either.

It's pensive and melancholy... true to Joni but also to Herbie. As you might expect there is some great horn work. The other players are all stars but don't have big solos.

I loved A Case Of You (but then I am a sucker for that song). Also dug All I Want with Sonya Kitchell which is the farthest from home a singer went. (This cut is only on the Amazon special edition)

The various guest artists add interesting interpretations. Besdies Tina on Edith, Corinne Bailey Rae does a very nice job on River.

If you love Herbie it deserves a listen. If you love Herbie and Joni it definitely deserves a listen. If you just love Joni I'm not sure it will work for you - download a song or two or listen to the samples on Amazon first.

BTW I think you can get a good sense of the album from reading the reviews on Amazon - a lot of thoughtful fans showed up to post on this one.

There is also a very interesting 'making of' article at http://jonimitchell.com/herbie.cfm

I am glad Rhljazz got me to haul it out and listen to it.
I expected something more, not exactly sure what the "more" was. But I seem to enjoy it more each time I listen to it, and I'm listening to it more often. It grows on me. That's it, no more.
Small world sometimes. I just picked this up a few weeks ago. I liked Herbies Jazz Moods/Round Midnight so I thought I'd buy the "2008 Album of the year". Definitely not recorded as well as JMRM. The piano sounds strident.

When Jone heard it she probably cried a river. :-)
I've got the LP version and it doesn't sound overly compressed to me. I do hear spots of compression here and there, but not the kind of broad compression over the whole spectrum that's ruining many recordings theses days.

Musically I enjoyed it very much. I'm not a big fan of Joni's voice, so I love others interpreting her wonderful songs.

Several months ago I listened to preview clips at AMG and other music sites and concluded this was not an album I wanted.

I'm not judging sonics, having listened only via internet but musically I heard enough. Like Detlof, I think It's way too commercial and too "smooth Jazz."
I listened to the first two tracks again last night on my headphone system which consists of Sennheiser HD600 phones, ASL MG II tubed amp, and a Cambridge D500SE cd player. It sounded even worse. Listening through the phones, it sounded like a lot of digital circa 1985, brittle, etched, crystaline would be apt adjectives. The vocal mix on Edith and the Kingpin is especially hashy and spitty. I couldn't take any more.

Disregarding the sonics, the music doesn't inspire me either.
RHljazz. I'm listening to the disc as I write this post. The instruments don't sound compresses at all but something was going on with the vocals
I started reading the credits and all the vocals were recorded at other studios. Avatar studio in NY is where all the instrumental was recorded
I think Herbie was creative and trying to give some of the vocals a more classic sound and possible had them recorded on analog tape? The sax work seems suspect to some analog work. I could be just the different techniques at each studio that recorded the vocals tracks 1and2 sound more analog but track 4 sounds very forward almost standing in front of me and singing. Not my favorite Herbi work

Wow, are we talking about the same CD? "Sonics are lousy" and "hashy and spitty" are far from how I would describe it. Sure, I have plenty of better recordings in terms of pure sonics, but this one, in my opinion, is definitely a considerable cut above the typical recordings out there. Perhaps the Canadian pressing I have is better, I don't know.

As far as the music, I do like it, but it takes a decent amount of plays to grow on you.

Bel Canto CD-2
Bel Canto DAC3
Bel Canto REF1000 MKII monoblocks
Usher BE-718
Velodyne DD10
Combination of top GutWire and Atlas cables and line conditioning
I think it a very "involved" album both on a sonic level the selection of tracks and the way they are arranged. I can see and hear the amount of time and work it took to compose this album. For me Its a type of disc that will only be listened too on those rare subtle moments. But those moments do pass quickly for something with a more upbeat tempo
This disk is utter crap. Mostly just Herbie noodling away and paying no attention to the melody. Most of the songs are unrecognizable as the originals. A real shame, given how good the originals are.

Jazz is suppose to re-invent the original melodies (sorry but tottaly disagree with Ptmconsulting)..

Fortunatelly there are still some jazz players like Herbie.
The man has a "commercial" instinct, but that is ok if he brings quality performances like this one.
I captured the pensive essence of Joni songs, while keeping his very original piano style.
And the other musicians are top notch!

This is one of the records that can "grow" in time...
I feel compelled to add to this post because if someone were unfamiliar with the recording this post could give a wildly off the mark impression of what Hancock and crew have accomplished.

First off, the album's sonics. It's not a minimalist audiophile recording, but in no way is it highly compressed or otherwise unlistenable.

Second, Joni Mitchell appears on the album, so no, she's not crying a river. The album was produced by Larry Klein, Mitchell's long time collaborator.

Third, in no way could the music be considered smooth jazz. Commercially oriented, yes, but is it really any news that Herbie Hancock has commercial leanings? Unlike smooth jazz the album is musically challenging. It requires active listening and it cannot be appreciated in one or two listens. Joni Mitchell is a very unique writer/singer and I think Hancock gets that uniqueness and doesn't try to impose his genius on top of Joni's. He lays it out, explores and caresses her music, much like early and mid-60s Miles would meditate upon a theme. It no coincidence that one of the two non-Mitchell songs is "Nefertiti".

Here are some professional opinions on the album --

The New Yorker

All About Jazz

The New York Times

This album was released the same day as Mitchell's "Shine". In the past year I've listened to Hancock's record quite a bit more than Mitchell's.
Call me a stick-in-the-mud but I'll cling to my early Blue Notes, which IMO are great jazz. He lost me at Headhunters.
I still think it is contrived, not even brilliantly, but rather highbrow mainstream, what the so called expert critics like, there is not gut feeling in it, nothing to get under your skin, just tickles your grey matter a bit to be soon forgotten after that. If that is "jazz", well you can safely forget about it, because all real life has been driven out of it. Perhaps you younger folks don't know any better. Just the very personal, fiercly unhumble opinion of an old curmudgeon.
Happy listening,
LOL! Audiophiles! Argue over anything!FWIW, I think the cd is not so bad. Norah Jones doing Court and spark leaves something to be desired but, overall not bad. I've heard a lot worse.
"Perhaps you younger folks don't know any better." Perhaps some older folks are getting senile. HAHAHA!!! I'm 52!
52? Well, then just you wait a while until you get to my state of mind. You'll find that you can have lots of fun under the guise of senility!(;
Detlof, I'm well on my way! Most of the time I blame my short-comings on the possibilties of Alzheimers creeping in, ignorance, or just plain stupidity. Multiple choice!
As a matter of fact, once you're senile, it does not matter which is which. Main thing your hearing is still good!
I played the disc this weekend on the stock audio system in my Tundra truck and it was less objectionable than on any of my home systems. The vocal and sax on Edith and the Kingpin is still noticeably riding on a scratchy mix. If it is audible on my truck system, it should be apparent on any home system. Whether you hear it and it bothers you, I'll leave to each individual.
I'm going to stand on my own now! I've been listening to this some more since all the talk. This disc ain't bad! If your getting a lot of spitting then you might want to look into another DAC. I'm using a B. Canto Dac 3 w/computer driving via USB. Yea, it's different per tracks but the midrange (vocal,sax) does sound a little forward on some tracks but overall I've heard a lot worse!