In today’s installment of my listening report on the new Vinyl Me, Please box set called The Story Of Herbie Hancock we’ll explore two very different sides of this influential artist’s career. If you missed the first portions of this review series, please click here and here for Parts 1 & 2 respectively. I’ve never owned either of these albums previously so I’m relishing the joy of discovery — part of what this set is about!
This album was a big big hit back in the day with its MTV breakout smash “Rockit,” a platinum bestseller. Future Shock was an early hybrid which helped to signal a sea change of mainstream respectability for the then-new forms of music which were still emerging: Hip Hop and Rap.
The thing I didn’t realize back in the day was that this album was co-created with the influential New York underground group called Material which included now legendary bassist and producer Bill Laswell. Listening in 2020 hindsight Future Shock totally fits in with the aesthetic of Laswell’s early Material albums including the classic from 1982, One Down.
Not surprisingly Future Shock has a very distinct period vibe revolving around early drum machines and Fairlight sequencer synthesizer sounds. So, don’t expect to hear an ‘80s version of Head Hunters because this album is about as different as night and day. That said there are still some really cool things on it such as “Autodrive“ and “Earth Beat.”
For all its computer-driven essence, happily Future Shock sounds remarkably warm all things considered. It was recorded on analog tape so there’s a certain vibe here that disappeared as later digital workstations and computer-based programming became the norm.
While it is still not my favorite Herbie Hancock record, I can see why it was included in the set. From a historical perspective, it is important to understand Future Shock. And “Rockit” is still a fun track — the video actually holds up quite well after all this time (see below)
As live albums go, Live Under The Sky sounds wonderful and is mastered beautifully, with a rich presence for all the instruments. It is sourced from master digital audio according to the VMP website. The band is on fire from the start and you can feel the connectivity between these musicians.
Amazingly, the 1979 concert was recorded at the out-of-doors Denen Coliseum and the band played through a heavy downpour. Judging by fan response during tracks like ”Domo,” they could care less about the weather! It was all about the music and the band rose to the occasion.
The recording quality and performance are excellent. The only thing I don’t quite understand is the track listing — this is one of those rare moments in the boxed set that seems to be bit incomplete and even confusing.
One new song was apparently added to the set list which I assume is “Eye Of The Hurricane” (which originally appeared on Maiden Voyage) — looking online I see that it was not on the original release of Live Under The Sky. The official website says that the song was not recorded at the time!
So, perhaps a tape was found or maybe it was somehow damaged at the time and later was repaired digitally. I’m just guessing here. But, in adding that one track they also seem to have deleted the closing medley of “Stella By Starlight / On Green Dolphin Street” found on the original CD.
So while Live Under The Sky is great, it is also technically incomplete; deep fans will probably want to pick up the CD as well just to have everything. The album was apparently released on vinyl in the U.S. with a very different cover design, so if you have that version you have the original closing tracks.
There is also a two CD version of Live Under The Sky out with 11 previously unreleased tracks! That version seems fairly complete so, again, hardcore fans will want to seek that out (if they don’t have it already!).
One odd little detail on the cover art for this release which was recorded by Sony and issued on the CBS / Sony Records label. Yet, in the lower right hand corner of the album is a Verve Records logo. Not sure if this is a printing error or a reproduction of a Japanese edition. Whatever it is, it makes this VMP’s The Story Of Herbie Hancock that much more distinctive.
In the upcoming final installation of this review series I’ll wrap things up exploring he final two releases this set: The Piano and 1+1. See you next week!