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Herbie Hancock: Future 2 Future

Recent Past 2 Recent Past, or Electronic Music Innovator Plays Catch-Up With Disciples would be a better title for Herbie Hancock’s latest, Future 2 Future, a circa-1996 drum ‘n’ bass CD by any other name. Hancock reteams with Bill Laswell, his production partner from the epochal Future Shock (“Rockit”), but magic does not strike twice. Future 2 Future is not all bad, but neither is it good; it’s mostly just there, like the ambient textures that pad the CD.

Usually jazz loses when it crosses over into electronica. There are exceptions-Graham Haynes’ Transition and The Griots Footsteps; Nils Petter Molvaer’s Khmer and Solid Ether; Tim Hagan and Bob Belden’s Animation-Imagination and Re-Animation-where the mixture of programmed beats and sounds blend perfectly with improvisation, but most of Future 2 Future does not find this balance.

The jazz part of Future 2 Future comes when Hancock busts out brief and leisurely solos over the programmed tracks, as on “The Essence,” which features Chaka Khan belting over a drum ‘n’ bass beat, and on the trip-hoppy “This Is Rob Swift,” which features the ultratalented turntablist cutting it up on the wheels of steel. Hancock’s solos sound phoned-in, however, and were almost surely added after the tracks were recorded.

Other than LTJ Bukem, Hancock biggest influence from the electronica world seems to be A Guy Called Gerald, who, like Bukem, is a key figure from the early ’90s ambient drum ‘n’ bass scene. Gerald makes an appearance on “Black Gravity” (though I’m not sure how: programming?) and over the usual assortment of mellow jazz-chord harmonies the rhythms skip and skitter and end up going nowhere, a common problem throughout the unfocused Future 2 Future

There are two outright clunkers on the CD. Wayne Shorter intros “Be Still,” but his soprano solo hovers over keyboard washes and sounds like smooth jazz; when vocalist Imani Uzuri busts in with the new-age lyrics (“As I walk the path/guided by the tenderness and courage”) it becomes smooth jazz. “Tony Williams” uses samples of the amazing drummer’s singular beats, but the rotten poetry that Dana Bryant intones-and she does intone-with all the weight of a coffeehouse read-in mars an otherwise dark and brooding track that features Shorter in fine form. When Bryant forcefully whispers “Two parts bebop/two parts rock/day and night are equal,” I just feel bad for her.

One of the CD’s best tracks, and the first of the CD’s excellent final four cuts, is the percussion-heavy “Kebero,” which features Detroit-techno pioneer Carl Craig (who successfully mixed electronica and jazz on his Interzone Orchestra’s lone CD) and Ethiopian vocalist GiGi, whose enticing debut CD Laswell produced recently. “Ionosphere” follows and features the pounding of Karsh Kale, a pioneer of real-time drum ‘n’ bass drumming, augmented with programmed percussion, plus what sounds to be actual, albeit brief, interplay between Hancock and Shorter; most of the tracks sound like the instrument-by-instrument constructs that they are.

The album finishes with two more strong, vocal-less tracks-“Alphabeta” and “Virtual Hornets”-and unlike most cuts on the CD, the real-time contributions of drummer Jack DeJohnette and bassist Charnette Moffatt are not subsumed in ambient washes of sound or locked entirely to a set of preprogrammed harmonies. These last four songs do show the promise of crossing jazz with electronica.

Were more of Future 2 Future like the last four cuts, it would at least point to where the marriage of jazz and electronica is going. But like many music prognostications, Future 2 Future fails to live up to the promise in its title.

Originally Published