In tribute to one of my favorite musical artists-the multi talented pianist,keyboardist,bandleader and composer Herbie Hancock (who turns 74 years old today),I am presenting a review of an album he recorded 36 years called ‘Sunlight’. With the the emergence of contemporary artists such as Dam Funk, Tensnake and Daft Punk all exploring new realms of the electronic fusions of jazz,disco and boogie funk? Its important to note that during the disco era of the late 1970’s,Herbie Hancock was already innovating that direction already. As an artist with classical training as well as a strong understanding of the regal and truly free nature of Latin and African rhythms in his entire career,Herbie Hancock probably understands the progression of jazz into the era of electronics more than any artist since his mentor and bandleader Miles Davis. The fact that he was also an engineer helped enhance this conception. So enjoy my review. Thank you!
Following his 1976 album with the Headhunters Secrets,Herbie Hancock elected to reform the remainder of the Miles Davis 60’s era Quintet for the album VSOP,who managed to actually record several albums and make more than one appearance despite what their name stood for. Still completely unfettered by music writers and critics frustrations (as they’d had with Miles earlier on) at Hancock refusing to stick to only one variation of jazz,the artist himself decided to expand on the Headhunters-replacing a departed Mike Clark with Leon Ndugu Chancler along with Harvey Mason and with Ray Parker Jr. and Wah Wah Watson remaining guitar players. For this album Herbie,likely aware he was not the strongest of singers decided to add his own vocals to this album-which is the first time he actually would do so. This was accomplished,as stated on the back of this album with the Sennheiser VSM-201 Vocoder,which would allowed Herbie’s voice to be encoded digitally through a special mic and played back as a completely synthesized vocal on a keyboard. This would have been the keyboardists equivalent of the guitar talk box. And with this new addition to his instrumental arsenal Herbie’s music began to make some exciting and spirited changes yet again
The album begins with two pieces over 8 minutes long. It opens with “I Thought It Was You”,an example of a rather innovative and un-commercial song that was actually quite a chart success. Its a wonderful melody built around a “funk functioning for the disco floor” type rhythm that also has a strong big band swing horn orchestration. Herbie plays some amazing Fender Rhodes solos in this song and at different intervals and breaks,layers himself scatting in different tonal colors through his new Vocoder. Its one of Hancock’s most vital compositions melodically and instrumentally as well as being one of the most important songs of that era in many ways. “Coming Running To Me” follows with breezier Brazilian fusion type shuffle with Herbie almost chanting some of the vocal lines almost in the manner of some of the Buddhist mediation he was engaging in at the time along with the main melody. The title is a beautifully melodic,high stepping funk piece-very much in mind of a Headhunters song circa 1975 only with a lead vocals and a more otherworldly use of Vocoder. “No Means Yes” starts out as a super melodic Samba played on polyphonic synthesizer before converting back to heavy Headhunters type funk for the refrains. “Good Question” brings in Tony Willians and the incomparable bassist Jaco Pastorius for an intense,rigid acoustic number almost in the mind of one of Miles’ 60’s Quintet’s more intense moments and that of VSOP. There’s also a lot of European classic theatrics in the playing,as well as a strong Afro-Latin percussion sound and Arabic melodic theme.
I first purchased this album at an enormous vinyl warehouse in Rochester,New York in 1998. I played the vinyl so often in such a concentrated time,it got worn after only about a decade. Its back cover depicting Herbie playing his vast array of synthesizers still hangs on my wall. Having purchased for the second time (due to a theft) this album on CD, this is one of the albums that I’ve heard that gets continually more brilliant each time I hear it. Recorded during the height of the disco era,most of this music is uptempo and extremely funky in the classic Headhunters tradition. At the same time,the addition of the Vocoder (which by the way has instrumentally as much in common with today’s autotune devices as Chess does with Tic Tac Toe) creates an entirely new futurist environment which enhance Herbie’s vocals on this album-giving them a surreal and very cosmic quality. For someone who isn’t a singer by trade,Herbie takes some enormous vocal chances here still-often stacking multiple layers of his Vocoderized vocalese and scatting to great a vast vocal polyphony that,while a deep source of inspiration for funk and jazz minded electronica artists such as Daft Punk,are still very much ahead of their time even from this original form. All the material here emphasizes Herbie’s exceptional talent at using his diverse synthesizers and pianos to create wonderfully hummable and improvised melodies while remaining firmly locked into the percussively rhythmic funk grooves that permeate this album. As such this album is a direct link musically between his Headhunters era jazz-funk sound and his more futuristic sound to come. So not only does this emerge as one of his strongest albums,and he has many,but also one of the most important transitional steps in his long and successful musical career.