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The Essential Herbie Hancock

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Album Review

Calling a two-disc retrospective of the varied and celebrated career of Herbie Hancock "essential" is a tall order to fill. Sony/BMG's Legacy does, as would be expected, an incomplete but decent job at offering a fine representative look at the artist, and at choosing best-known cuts to do so. This set is admirably cross-licensed by producer Bob Belden, who also wrote the great liner notes. Disc one is a journey in and of itself and offers a fine portrait not only of Hancock's changes as a musician, but also the changes in jazz brewing at the time. It begins with "Watermelon Man" from Takin' Off, Hancock's first Blue Note recording in 1962, and follows curiously enough with a fine reading of "'Round Midnight" off Sonny Rollins' Now's the Time offering for RCA in 1964. You get "Cantaloupe Island" and the title track from Maiden Voyage before Hancock's Columbia recordings as a member of the Miles Davis Quintet in 1966 begin. The two quintet cuts are "Circle" and "Sorcerer." There is no electric Miles-era material found here. This compilation follows the artist to Warner Brothers for "Tell Me a Bedtime Story" off Fat Albert's Rotunda (the serial music for Bill Cosby's groovy kids cartoon show), and then moves into the solo material with "Hidden Shadows" from Sextant and "Chameleon" from Head Hunters. The disc ends with "Joanna's Theme," from the soundtrack to the film Death Wish. When one considers what's been covered so far, the journey is actually amazing. Platter two continues with more fusion tracks, from Thrust, and a couple from the undervalued Mr. Hands issued in 1980, 1978's Sunlight, the truly awful Monster, and the innovative Future Shock (yes, it's "Rockit"; what else?). But there are also tracks from the many acoustic recordings he did for Columbia such as the Herbie Hancock Trio disc with Tony Williams and Ron Carter. Ditto material from V.S.O.P., the Gershwin's World outing, and of course the solo album New Standard in 1995. Fans can argue all day about what should have been left out and what should have been included but wasn't, but what does matter is how the wild twists and turns in Hancock's career have showcased him to be a chameleon as well as an innovator. While one may wish to place Maiden Voyage or Head Hunters in a newbie's hands, this serves as an undeniably well-rounded historical introduction.

Biography

Born: 12 April 1940 in Chicago, IL

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Herbie Hancock will always be one of the most revered and controversial figures in jazz — just as his employer/mentor Miles Davis was when he was alive. Unlike Miles, who pressed ahead relentlessly and never looked back until near the very end, Hancock has cut a zigzagging forward path, shuttling between almost every development in electronic and acoustic jazz and R&B over the last third of the 20th century and into the 21st. Though grounded in Bill Evans and able to absorb blues, funk,...
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