Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Review: Herbie Hancock - Thrust

A jazz prodigy by the time he was in his early twenties, Herbie Hancock hit gold in 1973 with ‘Head Hunters’, his first dive into the full-on electric funk world. Mixing jazz with the worlds of funk, rock and soul, it garnered strong reviews, attracted a newer, hipper audience and launched Hancock into the commercial stratosphere.

Not wasting any time and buoyed by his success, Hancock swiftly headed back into the Columbia studios for the follow-up, with bassist Paul Jackson, percussionist Bill Summers and Bernie Maupin on saxophone, flute and clarinet all returning - Harvey Mason on drums from the earlier album though being replaced by Mike Clark.

Following a similar pattern to ‘Head Hunters’, though far from a complete retread, ‘Thrust’ instead has a much more jazz vibe, but still maintains a healthy touch of the funk muscle. ‘Palm Grease’ builds on a steady curveball of a rhythm created by Clark and Jackson, with Hancock and Summers joining in, bending it and jamming over the top. Bernie Maupin first states the melody line with his flute, before adding extra power by switching to the bigger voiced tenor saxophone. It’s here that the groove really gets into its element. A less punchy opening than ‘Chameleon’ from ‘Head Hunters’ perhaps, it chooses to start sparsely before adding layer after layer until it reaches into a rhythmic swing all it’s own.

‘Actual Proof’ continues the sound and the groove, adding more complicated rhythms and going for a distinctly contemporary jazz approach. ‘Butterfly’, perhaps the highlight of the set, opts for a more peaceful and slowed down tempo approach, and is easily the most beautiful piece from Hancock’s electric phase, with the mood and feel being a credit to Maupins skillful use of his celebrated bass clarinet and his less often played soprano sax. Hancock gets to show his synthesizer mastery by giving the impression of flight against a calm jazz backdrop, before finally stating the main melody line right at the very end. ‘Spank-A-Lee’ that closes is, in contrast, just pure groove. A new form of danceable jazz is formed, with all the rhythm players combining to give the perfect springboard to Maupins outstanding ability and feel for the tenor saxophone.

Less famous but by no means less successful than ‘Head Hunters’, ‘Thrust’ is a great jazz funk record that will appeal to anyone who liked ‘Head Hunters’, and comes highly recommended for anyone wanting more of the same brand of funk.


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