Exploring the Future

Veteran jazz player Herbie Hancock searches for new frontiers.

These discs weren't flops, but they didn't sell in huge numbers, either. So it was no surprise when Hancock subsequently founded his own label, Transparent, and reunited with Laswell, who'd been behind the boards for his biggest commercial triumph. But even though its handle is obviously intended to recall the Future Shock period, Future 2 Future is no "Rockit" rehash: Rather, it's an ambitious and adventurous collection of modern soundscapes that grew out of conversations Hancock had with Laswell about a series of subjects, only one of which was music.

"I wanted to find out about Bill's life and the issues he's concerned about," Hancock says. "What are his cares? What does he feel passionate about? Because I have certain things I feel very passionate about, and I don't want to just make albums with tunes anymore. I want to have a purpose.

"We talked for two hours about humanity, about political issues, about social issues, about art and its role. And then Bill said to me, 'You know, this area of music they call electronica -- did you know your work has been a big influence on a lot of the people who work in that area?' And I hardly knew anything about electronica. I thought maybe he was talking about 'Rockit' or Head Hunters. But he said, 'Not "Rockit," and not Head Hunters, either. Sextant.' I said, 'What?' Because Sextant was my first record for Columbia Records, and it was a very far-out, avant-garde jazz record that was done way back in the early '70s. So," he chuckles, "I didn't believe him."

Using Buddhist philosophy as a creative catalyst, Herbie Hancock stands tall.
Using Buddhist philosophy as a creative catalyst, Herbie Hancock stands tall.

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With DJ Ivy, Pete Wall and Tian Chichi
8 p.m. Tuesday, March 19
$29.50, 303-786-7030
Boulder Theater, 2032 14th Street, Boulder

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He should have. Sextant, an excellent effort reissued a few years back on the Legacy/Columbia imprint, is frequently name-checked by electronica practitioners and jazz types with electro leanings, like Bugge Wesseltoft. Furthermore, "Nobu," a cut from the 1974 Hancock opus Dedication, is seen as an important precursor of the form -- hence its presence on Checkone: Applied Rhythm Technology, a mix compilation tracing the roots of the movement that also sports a thumper by rave royalty Carl Craig, a prominent guest on Future 2 Future.

Still, Hancock didn't react to this news by immersing himself in today's electronic music, "which is why I made the record I made," he says. "I couldn't have made it if I'd had too many external influences in the same area. It might have been somewhat derivative otherwise, and I'm not the kind of person who's satisfied with being derivative. And even if I'd tried not to do what other people were doing, it would have been reactionary. So by not doing it, I started out with a clean slate."

Laswell built upon Hancock's decision by tweaking the procedure they'd previously used together. "Usually, Bill likes to prepare something musically of his own, without me being in the studio with him," Hancock reveals. "Then he takes those tapes and plays them for me, and in the past, I would listen to what he prepared, and we'd start analyzing it, discussing it, picking out elements that could be a springboard for a melody or harmonic content or structure. And we could erase the whole thing if that's what I wanted.

"This time, though, he didn't do it that way," Hancock points out. "He did start off preparing things, but the first time I heard what he'd prepared, I was at a keyboard in the studio with the 'record' light on, which forced me to be totally right-brain. There was no time to analyze anything, because I didn't know what would come up next; I had to immediately respond and react, which is a rare way to do things. Even during the major avant-garde period of jazz in the late '60s and early '70s, the songs usually had melodies, some harmonic starting-off point, or something to unify a particular piece in the beginning. But in this case, Bill knew what the elements were, but I didn't, which made the situation pretty unique."

Even so, Hancock wasn't immediately sure this method would yield results. "The first time I overdubbed something, I thought it was nonsense, garbage," he admits. "I told Bill, 'Maybe we ought to do that again.' And Bill said, 'No, that's cool. I can use almost everything on that one.' And he could, because with the technological developments in music, there are all sorts of things you can do in production and post-production. You can expand, repeat, even change keys and do other things electronically to give certain elements and phrases more cohesiveness. It can seem random, but it can be used in a way that's not."

True enough: Future 2 Future holds together despite its quirky birth and a dizzyingly eclectic array of assistants that encompasses jazzbos (percussionist extraordinaire Jack DeJohnette), hip-hoppers (former X-Men member Rob Swift) and even a full-fledged diva (Chaka Khan), one of several featured vocalists. Not all of the latter are singers, however.

"When Bill and I started talking more specifically about the elements I might want for this record, I was thinking about what could set this record apart from other records I've done," Hancock recalls. "And I said to him, 'You know, most of my records have been instrumental. On very few have I' -- and I started to say, 'had singing.' But instead, I said, 'had the human voice.' Which is a whole other level of thinking."

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