12/06/13 The Nod
Label releases mammoth box set of legendary pianist
The release of Herbie Hancock: The Complete Columbia Album Collection: 1972-1988; a massive 35-CD box set, contains the entire thirty one domestic and Japanese recordings for the label by this multi-Grammy and Oscar winning pianist/keyboardist/composer/bandleader. Saxophonists Bennie Maupin and Wayne Shorter; drummers Harvey Mason and Tony Williams; percussionists Bill Summers, Leon “Ndugu” Chancler, and Sheila Escovedo ; bassists Ron Carter, Paul Jackson, Jaco Pastorius, and Bootsy Collins; keyboardists Patrice Rushen and Chick Corea; guitarists Ray Parker Jr., Melvin “Wah Wah” Watson, and Carlos Santana, along with Stevie Wonder on harmonica, are some of musicians Hancock collaborated with during this astonishingly creative period that spanned fusion, pop, R&B, disco, hip-hop and world music genres, and took him where no jazz musician has gone before.
“If I could name one musician who truly and authentically engages a number of musical idioms, I would say it would be Herbie Hancock,” says pianist/musicologist/educator Guthrie Ramsey, author of The Amazing Bud Powell: Black Genius, Jazz History, and the Challenge of Bebop, “from his earliest days as a classical prodigy in Chicago; to his young adult days as a player in Miles Davis’ groups and recordings on Blue Note. He launched a career that embraced many, if not all of the popular genres that have appeared since the 1960’s.”
“The box highlights several aspects of Herbie’s career,” box set producer Richard Seidel wrote via email. “It demonstrates how his music developed from a more abstract approach to electric jazz, as in Sextant, the earliest title in the box, to more of a defining jazz/funk approach as in Head Hunters, and on to the highly influential – on both hip-hop and other forms of pop music – Future Shock, which contained the hit “Rockit.” It covers in depth his exploration of electronic keyboards from analog models to digital models as they were introduced over the course of the 16 years of recordings in the box, and incorporated into the various settings of his electric projects.”
In addition to those aforementioned albums, the box set also includes two soundtracks, Death Wish and the Parisian, jazz noir classic Round Midnight, which starred Dexter Gordon; and tracks that enjoyed heavy rotation on many African-American radio stations in the seventies and eighties; including “Stars In Your Eyes,” “Gentle Thoughts,” “Give it All Your Heart,” and “Getting to the Good Part,’ which featured Hancock’s pioneering use of the vocoder a voice synthesizer that was also used by funkster Roger Troutman.
‘Simultaneous to his work in the electric area [the box set] covers his further explorations of acoustic jazz,” Seidel wrote, “ranging from his only solo piano recording, to a live duo recording with Chick Corea, the only two acoustic piano trio albums he’s ever done; an acoustic quartet with Wynton Marsalis, and five albums, two never before released in the U.S., by the famed all-star band V.S.O.P. with Freddie Hubbard, Wayne Shorter, Ron Carter and Tony Williams … And there’s even a relatively early example of a kind of World Music meets electric keyboards project – Village Life with kora player Foday Musa Suso from 1985. No jazz artist has been more successful, or in this period more prolific, in combining the acoustic and electric worlds in a way that achieved both artistic credibility and commercial success. “
The box set offers the listener the opportunity to hear many compositions – which also feature evocative lyrics written by Jean Hancock, Herbie’s sister, from the Hancock canon in a variety of formats, including solo, duo, trio, live and synthesized renditions of “Maiden Voyage,” “Toys,’ “Speak Like A Child,” “Cantaloupe Island,” and the haunting “Butterfly,” sumptuously sung by Japanese vocalist Kimiko Kasai. Hancock’s solo piano selection “Sonrisa” is recast as a kinetic, synth ballad “Trust Me” and Wayne Shorter’s moody “Circe” is an early 1979 version of his seminal 1985 composition “Atlantis.” The unique aural alchemy that Hancock achieved during the latter part of the twentieth century belied his single-minded effort to project a jazz aesthetic in an ever-increasingly stratified pop radio format.
“Herbie represents that last era of bright people in the music business, but smart enough to be able to go into all of those little worlds, and do it really well,” says tenor saxophonist/arranger/producer Bob Belden, who wrote a detailed, musicological essay in the box set’s liner notes. “Pop musicians focus on arrangements, more than on solos. And they try to be as interesting as possible within the confines of the format or a track. So you’ll hear pop music all of Herbie’s things, but in stuff like “I Thought it Was You,” from Sunlight—which is disco all the way—then there’s a section where it breaks down, and you’ll hear Herbie play in those breaks. And that’s how he was able to put his personality into the pop world.”
Belden also feels that the box set allows the listener to listen to Hancock’s music, with new insights that can only be gleamed with the passage of time. “There are masterpieces in there that people slept on, like Man-Child: Herbie developed a sound with the head hunters. And for a couple of years, he developed that sound into a larger format, Death Wish and with Man-Child, especially with orchestration. And Man-Child specifically was orchestrated so beautifully. It was an extension of [his Blue Note LP’s] The Prisoner and Speak Like a Child. It has a very unique sound that you never hear in contemporary arrangements.”
Herbie Hancock was heavily criticized for his forays into the pop idiom by jazz purists. But his jazz-born facility which gave him the ability to play other music, paved the way for young musicians today—from Esperanza Spalding to Robert Glasper—to speak their artistic truths regardless of genre. For Guthrie Ramsey, Herbie Hancock’s box set documents his courageous will to express himself beyond all categories. “He did not let the genre police stop him from exploring any sound world that [appealed] to him at the time.”