Feets Don't Fail Me Now. Herbie Hancock's newest display of ingenuity packs every bit of his amazing style into six diverse tracks. Hancock controls the method and the mood in Feets, an album worthy of the freshness of his thought.
In 1978, Hancock introduced a tremendously ambitious musical innovation when he first used the Sennheiser Vocoder VSM. The four-part electronic keyboard takes the human voice and synthesizes it to sound exactly like a musical instrument. Incredible results characterized Sunlight, the first album to use the VSM and one of the top jazz discs of last year. The synthesizer sound most closely resembles "You Got the Love" by Rufus and Chaka Khan, a popular track back in 1975.
An intense, and brilliant musician for many years, Hancock's efforts to sparkle his style are not wasted in Feets Don't Fail Me Now. His use of the synthesizer at this point in his life is indicative of the depth of his enormous talent. Many popular and respected musicians change only the style of their lyrics as their careers evolve; rarely do they explore modifications in their own voices or choice of instruments.
Hancock delivers a petrifyingly smooth and solid disc with the pace of a pendulum and an impressive array of moods. "Trust Me," a soft and easily flowing track incorporated his genius on the keyboards and his synthesized voice. To illuminate the backup vocals, a factor many other artists ignore. Hancock relies upon the Four Waters. The Four Waters isn't the name of a quartet, but rather a way to describe the vocal ebb and flow of brothers Oren and Luther Waters and their wives Julia and Maxine. The stunning vitality of their voices sounds electrifying behind that of Hancock.
"Ready or Not" is the first track in two years not written by Hancock on one of his albums. It's got a swinging synchronized beat perfect for rocking, and will probably be the first hit single from Feets. As in the other songs, Hancock and synthesizer provide the acoustics.
About the lyrics, don't brother. Besides the fact that the music and vocals give a more accurate measure of his talent, Hancock usually doesn't write his lyrics anyway. The most flagrant example of horrid lyrics comes through all too plainly in "Tell Everybody." "Honey from the Air" shows how a meaningless set of words can still reflect, with the help of solid backup vocals, hard work and good intentions. "Honey" 's pliant use of instruments stretches the sound beyond the poor lyrics.
Feets is so full of variety. "Knee Deep," the album's only instrumental, brings to mind the Hancock of years past and successes that included "Water-melon Man" and "Chameleon." Not that "Knee Deep" ranks with those oldies, but Hancock hasn't lost his old touch at all.
Over the years Hancock has built a great track record with an improvised and discernible display of creativity, now a Hancock trademark in the jazz world. He produces at least one, and usually two or three albums per year, each oozing with his musical genius.
Herbie Hancock will be appearing live at the Berklee Performance Center on March 17. And if his "feets" don't fail him, it should be a night to remember.