Future Shock

Future Shock

To jazz fans, Herbie Hancock needed absolutely no introduction by the early 1980s. The former Miles Davis sideman, leader of such historic Blue Note sessions as Maiden Voyage and Empyrean Isles, had secured his legacy as one of the greatest pianists in the music. While the turntables and breakbeats of 1983’s Future Shock might have seemed a sudden turn toward pop commercialism, Hancock had followed Davis’ example and gone electric long before, first with his Mwandishi sextet, then on the highly successful Head Hunters, as well as later Columbia outings. All the while, he continued recording acoustic jazz of the highest rank, with the V.S.O.P. Quintet and his own trio. Future Shock, co-produced with Bill Laswell and his Material partner Michael Beinhorn, represented just one facet of Hancock’s artistry, but the hit single and video “Rockit”—and the resulting Grammy and MTV attention both earned—helped make him a household name. The response to Future Shock sparked much debate in the jazz world, especially between Hancock and young trumpet sensation Wynton Marsalis, who had played with such commanding fire on Hancock’s Quartet album just two years earlier. The criticism, not in so many words, was that Hancock had sold out. But by today’s lights, Future Shock is remarkably prescient in its defiance of genre boundaries, its embrace of technology, and especially in its beat-driven emphasis. One can question whether we need an eight-minute cover of Curtis Mayfield’s “Future Shock,” however well-sung by Dwight Jackson, Jr. But there’s much on this album to praise: Laswell’s incredibly slick bass line on “Earth Beat”; the emotive harmonic landscape of “TFS”; the ripping acoustic piano solo breaks on “Autodrive.” Hancock’s use of the Fairlight CMI—short for “computer musical instrument”—was undeniably innovative, not unlike his use of ARP and Moog synths a decade earlier. And Sly Dunbar lays it down on drums for turntablist Grand Mixer D.ST, guitarist Pete Cosey, and others.

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