Herbie Hancock,
(Columbia, 1975)

Every so often, I find myself talking about music with someone who associates Herbie Hancock with "Rockit," that cheesy little ditty from 1983. That's such a shame. Hancock has done so much great work in so many styles it's almost tragic to have so many people associate him with one mediocre pop instrumental.

On the other hand, lots of people seem to think of him only as a traditional jazz player, disregarding his less highbrow work.

But as much as Hancock has contributed to traditional jazz, both on his own and with other greats, he's still found time to make some amazing jazz-rock, jazz-funk and fusion albums.

He was a major proponent of electric keyboards from the get-go, from electric piano to clavinet to synthesizer. And he always utilized them to great effect. For my money, the electric Herbie Hancock is just as great as the acoustic ("Rockit" notwithstanding).

Hancock's electric act is perhaps at its peak on 1975's Man-Child, an album that'll probably have you dancing around the living room.

From the first guitar groove on "Hang Up Your Hang Ups," this is great stuff. When Harvey Mason kicks the beat eight bars later, we know beyond any doubt that things will be very funky for the next 45 minutes. This is backbeat-driven music that finds Hancock reveling in the style, playing around with artificial sound like a techno knob-twiddler, 20 years ahead of time.

Hancock spends most of his time here playing an array of early synthesizers, but he ventures into acoustic and electric piano from time to time, always to stunning effect. Like the solo at the end of "Hang Up..." -- it's graceful, melodic, engaging, uplifting -- and it swings.

In contrast, Hancock's keyboard solos on "The Traitor" mutate into sonic blasts of blinding electronic noise against a backbeat that never lets up. Bass on these tracks is courtesy of Louis Johnson, of cheese-funk wizards The Brothers Johnson, and though not very jazzy, it's exactly what the mood requires.

Also featured on the album are guitar oddball Wah Wah Watson (the credits claim the album "would have been impossible without him"; indeed, his skittery, effects-drenched textures do play a big role) and Wayne Shorter on saxophone. Stevie Wonder even shows up to play harmonica on "Steppin' In It."

There's really not a bad track on Man-Child, though the musicians seem to be having more fun (or at least the fun is more infectious) on the faster tracks. But even more mellow pieces like "Bubbles" and "Sun Touch" are catchy, melodic and excellently played.

All in all, this is amazing work, especially for a guy who keeps getting associated with "Rockit."

[ by Paddy O'Furniture ]