Jan Hammer / The First Seven Days / Columbia/Legacy Records (CK 85401)

Signs of intelligent life continue to emanate from Columbia’s Legacy imprint: the first official compact disc release of Jan Hammer’s landmark solo recording from 1975, The First Seven Days, is now available for mass consumption (four of the album’s seven tracks were issued on the 1986 compilation, The Early Years). The remastering process has restored all synth sounds to their rightful glory, brandishing the power of true analog—eardrum candy. As one-fifth of the legendary Mahavishnu Orchestra, the transplanted Czech rose to prominence as one of jazz-fusion’s brightest lights. In the space of just a few years afterward, Jan racked up a list of recording credits a mile long, playing with fellow Mahavishnu alumni Billy Cobham and Jerry Goodman, Return To Forever alumni Stanley Clarke and Lenny White, Jeff Beck, Al Di Meola, Carlos Santana, John Abercrombie, Glen Moore, Steve Grossman, and others. Jan was one-third of Elvin Jones’ trio on On The Mountain, and checked in on Deep Purple guitarist Tommy Bolin’s Teaser—both of which also appeared in 1975. While a whirlwind ace on Fender Rhodes and acoustic piano, Jan’s trademarks became his sensuous Minimoog solos, and the Probe portable-synth-controller that he developed for his own use.

A concept album concerning The First Seven Days of Creation, Jan enlisted two of his then-most frequent collaborators to help realize each cycle—violinist Steve Kindler and percussionist David Earle Johnson—while he helmed his Moog and Oberheim (presumably a 2-voice or straight-up mono), his Rhodes, Mellotron, Freeman string synth, and good ol’ acoustic piano & drumkit (while recognized as a keyboard player, Jan’s also a drummer). The music is nothing short of sublime, nongratuitous, lean yet meaty, and very, very real. To my knowledge, Jan never used the Mellotron as extensively on any other recording as he did here. Reality as we know it is born in “Darkness/Earth In Search Of A Sun,” the great cosmic Void characterized by the manipulation of the Oberheim’s lowpass filters, and grating Mellotron strings. A pulsating monosequence rises forth, followed by very deft drumming. Via a scorching Minimoog solo, cosmic fire takes shape and burns our world into being. And that is only the first track.

“Light/Sun” is a gentle piano piece padded by the rich warm sounds of the Big O; the sun is borne out of a spiralling sequence, righteous solar power envelops our lonesome, prepubescent mudball. “Oceans And Continents” converge and settle; a graceful, long, rather economical Minimoog lead skips atop upbeat piano chordings and a piano solo. “Fourth Day—Plants And Trees” is an eloquent two-minutes & forty-five seconds of solopiano (yes, sum ‘Tron lurks ‘neath, tho). The remaining three tracks feature Kindler, and Johnson is present, except for the closer; the tone set by DEJ’s congas and Jan’s hi-res, buzzy Moog riffing, “The Animals” come into being. “Sixth Day—The People” is pastoral and rich in Eastern European motifs. Splendid Rhodes work, and a quaint violin solo courtesy of Mr. Kindler.

The First Seven Days come full circle with “The Seventh Day,” a very famous track from the Hammer repertoire—the Minimoog melody must have resurfaced in some form during Jan’s Miami Vice stint! As with any good thing, it’s never enough; Jan’s classic solo outings on the Nemperor label have languished in semi-obscurity for quite some time, so this may be a sign that reissues of Like Children, Oh, Yeah? and Melodies may be forthcoming. The First Seven Days may have arrived just a little late to be a vanguard release of progressive fusion, but it rides that tide higher than many of its peers. 

Reviewer: Elias Granillo
Score: * * * * *

Jan Hammer 
The First Seven Days 
Columbia/Legacy Records (CK 85401)

Jan Hammer, piano, Fender Rhodes, Moog, Oberheim synthesizer & digital sequencer, drums, percussion, Freeman string synth, mellotron; with Steve Kindler, violin; David Earle Johnson, percussion

1.  Darkness/Earth in Search of a Sun — 4:31
2.  Light/Sun — 6:44
3.  Oceans and Continents — 6:16
4.  Fourth Day - Plants and Trees — 2:46
5.  The Animals — 6:14
6.  Sixth Day - The People — 7:15
7.  The Seventh Day — 6:11

total time 40:06 

After departing from the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Jan Hammer invested his money into a home studio in Kent, NY. With fellow departed M.O. bandmate Jerry Goodman, he made the transitional Like Children, and then this, his first purely solo effort. The First Seven Days is a monumental solo debut, capturing the keyboardist at the height of his power as a composer and arranger. With perhaps the exception of "The Animals," it's very easy to envision each and every song on here played by a full orchestra. Hammer executes these thoughtful pieces with an expected virtuosic precision, but is never self-indulgent. To sweeten the deal for prog rock fans, all the pieces are played exclusively on a set of classic analog keys.

The prog hallmark of flux between 'introverted' and 'extroverted' musical passages is clearly evident. One need look no further than the lone piano ballet of "Light" (which also cleverly references Hammer's beautiful "I Remember Me" from Like Children) offset by the galloping sequencer and kaleidoscopic Moog flare-ups of its complement piece, "Sun". Similarly, the broad piano strokes painting wide landscapes, contrasted with lightning piano and Moog arpeggios, on "Oceans and Continents." The lyricism to be found in the melodies of "Fourth Day - Plants and Trees" and "Sixth Day - The People," with Hammer drawing from his Eastern European roots, are subtle and affecting. "The Seventh Day," which Hammer describes as his personal "Ode to Joy," is a simply resplendent closer and by itself would make this album worth it.

The only bad thing I could say about this album is that it makes me ache that the first lineup of the Mahavishnu Orchestra was no longer together to record it. Hammer is a pretty impressive one man band, but at the end of the day, I have strong convictions that The First Seven Days would have been an unassailable classic had it been recorded with his previous bandmates. "The Seventh Day" is a prime example. I can hear in my head McLaughlin and Goodman playing the main melody in lieu of Hammer's Moog, bassist Rick Laird replacing the diluted Moog bass lines, and Cobham's surefooted drum bursts in the song's climax replacing Hammer's competent but not masterful drum work. 

That aside, this is still an essential album for symph prog lovers, keyboardists, and Mahavishnu Orchestra fans. It provides clear evidence that Hammer's writing ability should have been more acknowledged by McLaughlin in the first edition of the Orchestra. Or, if you're more cynical, perhaps this will reinforce the belief that his writing contributions were indeed integrated, but not given proper accreditation. 

review by Joe McGlinchey
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