Herbie Hancock Rocks It Again

After four decades at the keyboard, Herbie Hancock still needs to be on the cutting edge. "It's part of my nature," he insists. "I get excited when trying out new stuff, whether it be an idea or equip

After four decades at the keyboard, Herbie Hancock still needs to be on the cutting edge. "It's part of my nature," he insists. "I get excited when trying out new stuff, whether it be an idea or equipment. It stimulates my juices."

A standards-setting jazz composer, a key collaborator with Miles Davis, and a jazz-fusion pioneer (as well as a multi-Grammy Award winner and current host of BET Jazz network's "Future Waves") the 61-year-old Hancock has influenced musicians worldwide. In particular, he has been a signal force for erasing musical boundaries through his ever-evolving experiments in acoustic and electronic jazz, funk, R&B, and dance.

With the Sept. 25 release of his new album "Future2Future" on the RED-distributed Transparent Music (the New York-based label he co-owns with his manager David Passick and former Verve president Chuck Mitchell), Hancock continues to keep the musical borders open, with a landscape that intertwines live jazz instrumentation with electronic wizardry while traversing drum'n'bass, hip-hop, left-field, and house styles.

Hancock co-produced "Future2Future" with producer/bassist/remix guru Bill Laswell -- the keyboardist's partner for the massively influential 1983 Columbia album "Future Shock" and its international hit single, "Rockit." Also contributing to the collaboration are such club-rooted DJs/producers as Rob Swift ("This Is Rob Swift"), A Guy Called Gerald ("Black Gravity"), and Carl Craig ("Kebero Part 1").

"To be honest, it was Bill who told me that I had influenced many dance and electronic DJs and producers," Hancock says. "I didn't have the background as to what had been established. Without Bill, I'm not sure if I would've fully understood the effect my music has had on the genre."

Upon this realization, and after talking to numerous club artists, Hancock was also taken aback to learn that while many in the dance/electronic community were influenced by "Future Shock," even more interest surrounded earlier recordings like 1973's "Sextant" (Columbia) and the rare track "Nobu." Hancock explains: "It completely surprised me that these DJs and producers were familiar with this earlier stuff, especially 'Nobu,' which appeared on an album ["Dedication"] that only came out in Japan."

Detroit techno producer/DJ Craig was re-introduced to Hancock's music several years ago when a friend played him "Nobu." Craig says, "It was improvised electronic music -- like nothing I'd heard before. He's always been an innovator -- and not only as a musician but as a sonic craftsman, too."

Issued in Japan in July via the JVC label, "Future2Future" also includes several of Hancock's veteran jazz partners -- including saxophonist Wayne Shorter, who played in the second great Miles Davis Quintet with Hancock, as well as on many Blue Note sessions with him. Another Davis '60s quintet veteran, the late drummer Tony Williams, is featured on a track named after him. Drummer Jack DeJohnette and bassist Charnett Moffett also appear on the album.

Many of the tunes -- written mostly by Hancock and Laswell -- are partnered with words and vocals from a handful of singing stylists, including bold new Ethiopian diva Gigi ("Kebero" parts 1 and 2), Chaka Khan ("The Essence"), Dana Bryant ("Tony Williams"), and Imani Uzuri ("Be Still").

According to Hancock, a practicing Buddhist, he had one requirement for the recording of "Future2Future": "It all had to come from the immediate, spontaneous part of the brain, not the analytical part. It had to come from the heart, with feelings, emotions. And in the end, the album accomplished even more than I set out to achieve."

Hancock and Laswell treated the album as a true collaboration. "The key word throughout the entire process was 'sense,'" Hancock explains. "You know, having a sense of where you might want to go musically but always leaving the door open for change. Sometimes, the music itself dictates where it wants to go. We both admire that element, that surprise."

Laswell concurs, adding, "We 'reconstruct' from traditional composition. I'm responsible for the basic tracks and concepts, the project's landscape, while Herbie is the improviser. And while we may have disagreements, we always come to a compromise."

On hearing this, Transparent Music co-owner/co-founder Mitchell smiles. "Don't think that because Herbie makes an electronic record that it's going to sound like a typical electronic record," he says. "It's a hybrid, which perfectly fits both Herbie and Bill."

Mitchell envisions the album's target audience as "sophisticated younger adults whose musical tastes are nurtured by the club scene. These are people always looking to embrace new directions in music -- something Herbie has always done."

The album's first single, "The Essence" (with remixes by LTJ Bukem, DJ Krush, and Joe Claussell), has been serviced to club DJs; it is only available commercially on 12-inch vinyl, released Sept. 18.

As for radio, Mitchell says he's "aware that commercial and noncommercial jazz radio won't embrace this. So, we sent the album to select Internet, NPR, and college stations earlier this month."

Jeannie Hopper, DJ/host of WBAI New York's "Liquid Sound Lounge," says that she is already playing "Kebero Part 1," "Tony Williams," and "Be Still." Hopper says she finds "Future2Future" to be "a trip down historical genius lane."

In addition to clubs and radio, AOL visitors can now download, at no cost, one of Bukem's mixes of "The Essence." On the album's release date, AOL members will be able to stream the entire album for one month. Furthermore, Mitchell says Hancock is scheduled to program one of AOL's music channels. Sept. 25 will also see the launch of Future2future.com, where fans will find general information, links, and musical streams of new and alternate mixes.

In November, Hancock, who played several summer jazz festivals in Europe, is scheduled to embark on a two-month European tour, followed by a U.S. trek early next year.


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