Herbie Hancock has always been looking at the future. Like his former employer, Miles Davis, Hancock is always looking for ways to add the latest musical influences to his bag while still retaining a sound and style that is completely his own. Unlike Davis, Hancock is perfectly willing to review and reconstruct the music of his past, as his collaboration with Michael Brecker and Roy Hargrove, Directions In Music, released last year, demonstrated. Moving between straightforward post-bop jazz and the electronic funk-hip-hop-techno world he helped to create, Herbie can amaze one moment and disappoint the next. But he is never standing still.
So it came as no surprise when Hancock decided to reunite with maverick producer Bill Laswell, a sonic matchmaker whose experiments in crossing musical DNA can also be stellar or disappointing. Laswell’s previous stint with Herbie brought about a major hit record—“Rockit”—and a trio of recordings (Future Shock, Sound System, and Perfect Machine) that offered some nice fusion meets electronica moments, but which were often somewhat flat considering the talent on board. The same can be said of Hancock’s latest release Future 2 Future. Fortunately, the music the group chose to perform live is mostly comprised of the best tracks from the new CD and some classic tunes from Hancock’s earlier forays into funk, electronics, and fusion.
Drummer and sometime vocalist Terry Lyne Carrington is the star of this performance. She is an imaginative drummer with much of the drive and fervor of Art Blakey and the youthful energy of Tony Williams. She is on top of every number here, never allowing the beat to lag or the energy level to drop. There are moments when the band here is playing as a fantastic jazz quartet—Hancock, Carrington, trumpeter Wallace Roney, and bassist Matthew Garrison (son of Coltrane bassist Jimmy Garrison) and the energy is going nicely. Additional keyboardist Darrell Diaz (who also does some vocal work) is an R&B player who has worked with Maxwell, but he doesn’t always seem to have a lot to contribute to this group. Turntablist DJ Disk, who was a member or the Invisibl Skratch Piklz and has worked with Jack DeJohnette and Bill Laswell is great, but it is a tad questionable whether this type of band would want a dedicated turntablist playing onstage on every number. In short, his contributions become rather tiresome after awhile. It is easy to imagine that he is merely an extra percussionist, but when he and drummer Carrington interact, the sound of the turntable doesn’t really sound like percussion, and it doesn’t always mix well with the drums. I don’t question the potential musicality of turtablism nor the skills of DJ Disk, but featuring him on fewer numbers would have gone a long way toward keeping his contributions from becoming monotonous.
Wallace Roney gets in a few good solos, particularly on “Kebero”, “Dolphin Dance”, and “Butterfly”, but otherwise he is often wasted. Hancock himself is in great form and looks relaxed as he plays synthesizers, acoustic piano, and even scratches with a CD turntable (for which he wins more crowd applause than for anything he does at the keyboard). It’s great to hear him playing so much acoustic piano within this context, because it fits well and no one can play funky piano the way Herbie can. A lot of the music here is really good, the better tracks from the Future 2 Future CD having been separated from the chaff. One exception is “The Essence”, a rather lame number that is more urban contemporary than funk or electronica. Roney does his best Miles Davis impersonation over a bass line that sounds a bit like Davis’s “Ife”, but ultimately nothing can save this number.
Likewise, the opening number “Wisdom” which starts slowly and features Hancock spouting some poetry about wisdom and the future gets things off to a sluggish start, but you forget all about that once the band gets into “Kebero”, easily the most impressive synthesis of funk/electronica/and fusion on the new CD. A 21-minute “Dolphin Dance” is impressive, demonstrating Hancock’s ability to reinterpret his older material and cast it in a new genre while demonstrating respect for its origins.
“Virtual Hornets”, also from the new CD, nicely references the song “Hornets” from Sextant, an album that has inspired many electronic musicians. The band does an amazing job on “Butterfly”, one of the most beautiful tracks from Hancock’s early ‘70s fusion period, playing the number delicately but without any of the overly smooth edges displayed on the studio recording. “Tony Williams” is a nice tribute to the drumming wunderkind and allows Carrington a nice opportunity to show her stuff (though, as previously mentioned, her talents are very well displayed throughout this performance). The obligatory “Rockit” is good, but there isn’t much that can be added to it, and even DJ Disk settles for approximating the work done on the original recording by DS T. But the encore performance of “Chameleon” from Headhunters is fantastic. The groove is ably handled by Carrington and Garrison, and Hancock turns in great solos on both electric and acoustic keyboards. The reprise ending features Wallace Roney with electrified trumpet taking the whole thing to a new level, and generates more genuine excitement than almost anything else here.
The only real problem is that it’s not all that exciting to watch musicians playing electronic instruments. Carrington is nicely animated, and sometimes Garrison is too, but Hancock moves serenely from one keyboard to another, while Diaz sits behind his the whole time. And turntablism, while interesting sonically, is never much fun to watch unless you are a DJ. So, the question becomes why would you want to watch the DVD? I would suggest that the music here gels much better than on the Future 2 Future CD, with better songs overall and a mostly nice performance. And the sound is available in Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 surround sound-a nice touch. So it’s better overall even if you don’t really pay that much attention to the video. You also get a couple of nice extras: the original “Rockit” video from 1983, an interview with Hancock, and a discography that features audio samples from various albums. It also boasts MX Multiangle, which periodically allow you to choose the camera angle you’d like to see by selecting from picture in picture windows at the bottom of the screen. I had trouble making it work on my DVD player, but it worked fine on my computer. It’s a nice feature, but not one that makes or breaks the DVD.