Takin' Off (1962)
A year after joining Donald Byrd’s quintet and playing different venues around New York City, Hancock created his own quintet and released his debut solo album, Takin’ Off, which featured Freddie Hubbard on trumpet, Dexter Gordon on tenor saxophone, Butch Warren on bass, and Billy Higgins on drums. Though Takin’ Off feels tame compared with his subsequent work, it showed that Hancock had what it took to gracefully lead a band, sometimes taking a backseat to let others shine. A mix of Afro-Cuban rhythm and gospel, “Watermelon Man” is a sleek, horn-driven composition focused on a tight groove and standout solos (Hubbard has a star turn here). Then there’s “Driftin’,” where Hancock expands into a blues-driven piano solo, yet it feels festive when played over Higgins’ steady percussion. When the ballad “Alone and I” comes around, the pace slows to a crawl, concluding the album on a sensual note.