Reviewed by Jay Trachtenberg, Fri., Dec. 6, 2002
Herbie HancockHerbie Hancock Box (Columbia Legacy) More than any other jazzman of his generation, pianist/keyboardist/ composer/bandleader Herbie Hancock took the baton handed to him by Miles Davis and sprinted into the future. A member of Davis' incomparable mid-Sixties quintet, Hancock, who stayed active long enough to absorb the famed group's electric experimentations, forged a highly successful two-pronged career. He upped the ante on Davis' (and his own Blue Note) acoustic legacy, while also pioneering the brave new world of electric fusion. Both sides of Hancock are explored in this 34-track, 4-CD, modernist-designed box set covering the period from 1972 to 1988, succinctly illustrated with an acoustic and then a techno-funk rendition of his most esteemed composition, "Maiden Voyage," which nicely bookends the set. The first two discs primarily cover Hancock's V.S.O.P. projects, where he's teamed in various settings with his colleagues from Davis' Quintet -- drummer Tony Williams, bassist Ron Carter, saxophonist Wayne Shorter, and recruited trumpeter Freddie Hubbard. Most of this material was recorded live and originally issued only in Japan. Impassioned and straight-ahead, this music anticipates the Wynton Marsalis-led Young Lions movement of the early Eighties, which dominated jazz for the next two decades. Even more influential are the electro-jazz/funk sounds of Hancock's Mwandishi and his Seventies band, the Headhunters. Although much-maligned by purists of the day, substantive and inventive tunes like "Chameleon" and "Watermelon Man" helped expand the scope of jazz and attracted a whole new generation of listeners. Hancock's funk projects, highlighted by the massive 1984 Grammy-winning techno dance hit "Rockit," demonstrated once and for all just how versatile a musical Renaissance man he could be. By then, even Miles Davis was taking notes.