During the 1960s and '70s, Herbie Mann continually searched for new playing contexts in which to place his flute. In December 1973, he traveled to London for five days of recording with a group of British rock musicians. The result was London Underground, an album tilted much more in a rock direction than the soul and R&B-drenched recordings he had been making for the previous five years. Highlights on this album include the Rolling Stones' "Bitch" (then-Stone Mick Taylor played guitar on this album), Thunderclap Newman's "Something in the Air," and "Paper Sun," from the Traffic canon. The real highlight, however, came about with the addition of Stephane Grappelli on the Donovan pop hit "Mellow Yellow."
Herbie Hancock's V.S.O.P. project with his former bandmates from the Miles Davis Quintet – Ron Carter, Wayne Shorter, Tony Williams – and trumpeter Freddie Hubbard was a band that almost single-handedly tried to re-establish acoustic jazz in the United States. And though they made three recordings, all of which were favorably reviewed and heralded by true jazz fans, none of them sold very well, and the band could find few gigs in the United States. The 1978 tour of major cities was thought to be a triumph at the time, but the unit could find few gigs afterward, and so its various members all went back to their other projects. In 1979, they got the opportunity to tour Japan and jumped at the chance. Sony, Hancock's Japanese label, recorded the two evenings, and the first, which took place during a furious rainstorm, was broadcast live on national television! Live Under the Sky marks the first time that this album has been available in the United States in any form.
Herbie Hancock recorded for Columbia between 1972 and 1988. During that period, between the label's American and Japanese divisions, he released 31 albums, both solo and with an astonishing variety of players in an equally breathtaking panorama of styles, from straight-ahead post-bop, to fusion, jazz-funk, disco, R&B, smooth jazz, and even hip-hop. Though Hancock had a celebrated career before signing to Columbia, it was his longest label association; and during his tenure there, he experienced his greatest commercial success and his name was etched permanently into the history of popular music. This box set contains 34 discs – 28 single and three double albums – all housed in handsome individual LP and gatefold sleeves.
In the grand tradition of sequels, Sound-System picks up from where Future Shock left off – if anything, even louder and more bleakly industrial than before (indeed, "Hardrock" is "Rockit" with a heavier rock edge). Yet Hancock's experiments with techno-pop were leading him in the general direction of Africa, explicitly so with the addition of the Gambian multi-instrumentalist Foday Musa Suso on half of the tracks. "Junku," written for the 1984 Olympic Games with Suso's electrified kora in the lead, is the transition track that stands halfway between "Rockit" and Hancock's mid-'80s Afro-jazz fusions. Also, "Karabali" features an old cohort, the squealing Wayne Shorter on soprano sax. Despite succumbing a bit to the overwhelming demand for more "Rockits," Hancock's electric music still retained its adventurous edge.
Set upon recapturing the pop ground he had invaded with Future Shock, Hancock relies upon many of the former's ingredients for yet another go-'round on Perfect Machine. High-tech producer Bill Laswell is back, so is scratchmaster D. ST. – and armed with a warehouse of mostly digital keyboards, Hancock adds the distinctive bass of Bootsy Collins and the Ohio Players' vocalist Sugarfoot, who always sounds as if he had just swallowed something. The music is mostly thumping, funk-drenched techno-pop which still has some verve, particularly the designated single "Vibe Alive" and the "Maiden Voyage" interlude as heard through an electronic fun-house mirror. But this is not really an advance over Hancock's early-'80s pop projects.