Perhaps the funkiest album of Herbie Hancock's early- to mid-'70s jazz/funk/fusion era, Man-Child starts off with the unforgettable "Hang Up Your Hang Ups," and the beat just keeps coming until the album's end. "Sun Touch" and "Bubbles" are slower, but funky nonetheless. Hancock is the star on his arsenal of keyboards, but guitarist Wah Wah Watson's presence is what puts a new sheen on this recording, distinguishing it from its predecessors, Headhunters and Thrust. Others among the all-star cast of soloists and accompanists include Wayne Shorter on soprano sax, Stevie Wonder on chromatic harmonica, and longtime Hancock cohort Bennie Maupin on an arsenal of woodwinds.
All Music Guide
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In the jazz world, assessments of black dance music often seem to have been unfairly weighted in favour of the pre-war varieties.
It's not difficult to find a jazz fan who can praise Fletcher Henderson and disparage Quincy Jones with equal enthusiasm. Herbie Hancock - eminent jazz pianist and producer of some of the most influential dance music of the last three decades - is one latterday victim of this double standard. Belgian jazz discographer Walter Bruyninckx's gleeful designation of the groundbreaking 1983 Future Shock as 'Future Shit' is a typical example of the kind of welcome Hancock's funk music has received from the less enlightened quarters of the jazz world.
Sometimes, it seems the music has only been a part of the problem. The Hancock's funk productions which began in earnest with the million-selling Headhunfersm 1973 and continued into the late eighties have also aroused critical suspicion for their commercial succes. However, Hancock has been clear about what drew him to funk, and the need to make ends meet was only part of it. He likes funk music. Remembering the occasionally freely improvised 'space music' he was involved in begore Headhunters, he told Joy Williams: 'I'd go to a party somewhere and I'd say "Oh, I just finished doing my record." I'd put it on and it interfered. It was so weird people couldn't talk anymore,' His solution was to follow his muse: 'I said "O.K. 'I like Sly Stone, I love Sly Stone. So why don't I just try and do some kind of funk record?" 'Although some of the music which followed that 1972 epiphany is as frothy as any dance music has a right to be much of it has a satisfying substance. There is plainly no law of aesthetics which says that financial motive cancels out creativity. Naturally enough, the changes wrought by Headhunters attracted cries of sellout. But those who were quick to damn Hancock for commercial compromise perhaps forgot that Hancock's defection from space music to dance music implies no cynical importation of an alien idiom. Hancock grew up in Chicago, where, as well as performing with the Chicago Symphony at the age of 11, he got to know the R 'N' B sounds on his doorstep. As early as 1963, before his hallowed years with Miles Davis (1963-68) he had scored a top 20 hit with the gospel flavoured "Watermelon Man"
Above all, the doubters failed to recognise the universe of new sounds introduced by Hancock's funk records. That novelty is most apparent in the synthesisers which Patrick Gleason brought to Hancock's attention in 1971. Hancock started cautiously, drawing on the modest forces of just two ARP synths for Headhunters, but by 1980, and Mr. Hands, he was using some 14 instruments. Along the way, on the 1977 Sunlight, he had pioneered the Sennheiser Vocoder, a voice synthesiser interface which allows the operator to sing robot-like, through the synthesiser. By the 1978 Feets Don't Fail Me Now and tracks like "You Bet Your Love", the Vocoder had become a Hancock trademark. However, the prominence of the synthesiser should not be allowed to overshadow the important textural developments in Hancock's funk. One of the primary aims of this music was the creation of a rich, strictly ordered rhythmic counterpoint. Hancock told Bret Primack in 1979:' In the popular forms like funk, which I've been trying to get into, the attention is on the interplay of rhythm between different instruments. It's almost like African drummers where seven drummers play different parts.' Translated to seventies jazz-funk, this meant that keyboards, bass, drums and percussion were each assigned riff figures which became building blocks in a pulsing, grooving monolith of sound. When jazz slipped in, these duties were relaxed, but the tension between the tightness of the groove and the wild ness of the jazz was one of the sources of the music's excitement.
Presented with what was designed as dance music, it's all too easy to overlook the abundance of jazz in Hancock's funk. Hancock told Joy Williams 'As much as I kept trying to make it funk, it kept integrating with these jazz elements, so after a while I stopped fighting.' Too often, one suspects, purists have rejected the music at the first hint of backbeat snare, synthesiser and popping funk bass, but it doesn't take much effort to discover in tracks like "Sly" (Headhunters), "Shiftless Shuffle" (Mr. Hands) or "Heartbeat" (Manchild) feverish jazz improvisation of the first order. On the second half of "Sly". Hancock solos in what is essentially a jazz trio setting, playing with a passion and invention which rivals his best straightahead work. The only significant difference is in the rhythmic arena, where the rounded eighth note triplet feel of swing is supplanted by a glamorous sixteenth note approach which owes much to Latin American music. A cousin to disco perhaps but there's no question that while appropriating the funk of James Brown and Sly Stone, the trio of Hancock, bassist Paul Jackson and drummer Harvey Mason produced some superb interactive jazz.
Walter Bruyninckx says that Hancock's Columbia issues are 'disco recordings without any jazz value'. But even the briefest encounter with Headhunters, Manchild, Mr. Hands, Future Shock or its sequel Sound System proves otherwise. By the early eighties, it was beginning to seem as if Hancock's relationship with funk had served its purpose. With the 1978 Feets Don't Fail Me Now, he had finally made the vocal funk record he had been trying for since 1972. He told Jon Balleras 'That was a major success for me, because I'd been trying to make a record that wasn't jazz'. And a couple of years earlier he had started to perform again in a straightahead setting with VSOP, a reunion band of sixties hard hoppers. However, the upheavals in pop music in the late seventies opened up new horizons for forward looking musicians and in 1983, Hancock was once again at the forefront of a new vanguard.
Future Shock (1983) and its sister album Sound System (1984) conjured something quite fresh out of a surrealist mix of heavy metal revivalism, turntable scratching, robotic digital percussion, Hancock's signature jazz piano and various African elements. Largely conceived and initiated by maverick bassist and producer Bill Laswell, these records set a new agenda for adventurous pop producers as well as demonstrating Hancock's ability to involve himself again in fresh musical fusions. Ten years after Headhun-ters scored a top 40 hit with "Chameleon", Future Shock's "Rockit" took Hancock into the singles charts again. Ten years further on, "Rockit" still sounds fresh, and the kind of funk inspired by Headhunters is proving a rich source of samples for today's house and rap artists.
-Mark Gilbert 1992