A clue to how the album is going to unfold comes when the band bites into the opening "Eye of the Hurricane" at about 260 beats per minute. Within 90 seconds drummer Tony Williams is beating the brains out of young Freddie Hubbard. I mean, beating the brains out of him. Leaving Ron Carter to provide the bedrock rhythm, Williams breaks into a dizzying array of pounding fills, kicks, cross-rhythms and subthemes beneath (and over top of) Hubbard's solo, putting the young trumpet player on notice that he better bring it and good. Hubbard responds with a solo of dizzying virtuosity, repaying Williams in kind.
Throughout the number Williams spars with his bandmates, completely abandoning the beat under Hancock's solo in favor of a barrage of rhythmic commentary on Hancock's playing. The resulting musical dogfight finally resolves with both Hancock and Willams dropping out to let Carter walk the bass for a minute before the whole band comes back to the head, finally laying out into the serene and beautiful next selection, "Tear Drop.” For the next hour, the entire band tear into song after song with boundless creativity and power.
Lest I give you the impression that the entire record consists of two discs of musical ultimate fighting deathmatches, I must hasten to mention that about half the selections are cool downtempo meditations. More than just breaks to allow us and the musicians to catch their breaths, beautifully rendered performances of "Tear Drop," "Para Oriente" and others find the group exploring textures, harmonies and intensities of emotion in ways that frantic workouts just won't allow.
There is something mind-boggling about listening to four (five) players among the greatest of all time leaving behind all the rules and just playing whatever feels right in the moment. With nods to everything - bop, modal jazz, cool jazz, Mingus-style third stream suites, free blowing a la Ornette Coleman, the group move in and out of song structures, extending, reiterating, and demolishing at will.