Herbie Hancock ‘Then and Now: The Definitive Herbie Hancock’ (Verve) 3/5

From early beginnings at the Blue Note label, through the apprenticeship in Miles Davis’ seminal groups, and on to electronic wizzardry as part of the Headhunters, Herbie Hancock has condensed a great deal of diverse and vituosic music into a long career spanning five decades. While a single CD of his work can never truly claim to be comprehensive (even a double CD would only barely touch the surface), this CD does provide an overview to the multiple facets of his musical talents. The classic Blue Note sides are represented here by two pieces that illustrate the impressionistic lyricism of his compositions with ‘Maiden Voyage’ betraying the influence of Debussy and Ravel, while ‘Cantaloupe Island’ with its hypnotic repetition has become one of Hancock’s most sampled pieces and is the choice cut from ‘Empyrean Isles’. Chronologically the compilation skips almost a decade, taking in ‘Wiggle Waggle’, before focusing on the jazz-fusion sound of ‘Chameleon’ when Hancock was in his element exploring the outer limits of the synthesizer within improvised music.
The 1980s witnessed a two-pronged approach from the pianist. One the one hand he acted and performed in a retrospecitve of his earlier period in the film ‘Around Midnight’ and from this ‘Chan’s Song’, written by Jean Hancock, is featured. On the other Hancock fused hip-hop rhythms with jazz on ‘Rock it’ which became a sizeable chart hit and is included here with a live version. Of the last fifteen years ‘The New Standard’ is strangely omitted as is the duet album with Wayne Shorter. However, the recent tribute to Joni Mitchell is represented by two versions of ‘River’, the former a duet with Corinne Bailey Rae, and the second a live rendition including the vocals of the composer herself. Herbie Hancock has always strived to avoid being pigeon-holed into playing one type of music, incurring the wrath of so-called jazz purists in the process, and has featured on countless soul/pop albums including Stevie Wonder’s ‘Songs in the Key of Life’. Wonder repays the compliment with vocals on ‘St. Louis Blues’. The imminent UK tour promises to be a much anticipated revisiting of the pianist’s vast and eclectic repertoire. Tim Stenhouse

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