Jan Hammer has had one of the strangest careers in music. A gifted jazz piano prodigy, he started out backing up Sarah Vaughan before tearing off the top of his Fender Rhodes and playing some brilliantly deranged stuff with John McLaughlin and the Mahavishnu Orchestra. He then featured on some great jazz and fusion albums of the ’70s alongside Billy Cobham, John Abercrombie, Elvin Jones, Harvey Mason and Stanley Clarke, while also working extensively with Jeff Beck, Al Di Meola and his own band.
Come the mid-’80s and hey presto he had a huge hit with the theme song from ‘Miami Vice’ and toured occasionally with Tony Williams, whereby he promptly disappeared until a world tour with Beck in 2003 (I caught the superb Albert Hall gig during the UK leg).
Since then, he hasn’t exactly been prolific. But it can’t be easy being Hammer. A prodigious talent on piano, keyboards and drums with an instantly recognisable sound – as identifiable on the synth as Stevie Wonder, Zawinul or George Duke – he understandably has very high standards.
But this is his 1975 solo debut album and it’s a classic. Pretty much a one-man-band project with the addition of Steve Kindler on occasional violin, The First Seven Days was recorded in Hammer’s home studio in upstate New York (I wonder if he ever ran into Keith Jarrett). Sometimes the sound quality and mixing are a bit ‘low-budget’ but it scarcely matters.
Mahavishnu and Jeff Beck fans will probably love The First Seven Days, but there’s such an impressive range of music on offer, going way beyond just electric jazz/rock, including some sumptuous Jarrett-style acoustic piano backed with a string quartet (very influenced by Expectations), barmy jazz-fusion with a tinge of prog rock featuring Hammer’s fantastic drumming and intricate pastoral sections showcasing his trademark lyrical Mini Moog playing. There’s even a large nod to some of the Vangelis/Jean Michel Jarre-style ‘symphonic’ electronica that was prevalent in the mid-’70s.
So is it even jazz at all? Hammer thinks probably not. In 2004, he told an interviewer: ‘The music on The First Seven Days was moody and spiritual. It was closer to classical than jazz. I was surprised how people kept looking at it from a jazz view. It’s not jazz,; at least, I can’t hear that. I think it’s because it has a lot of improvisation.’