Pianist/composer Herbie Hancock has an ongoing, vividly protean career, one virtually mirroring changes in jazz for the past four decades. It's improbable that a mere two-CD set could illustrate such a vocation, but Essential comes darn close. The genesis is Hancock's original "Watermelon Man," a massive early-'60s hit this version, from HH's Blue Note debut, Takin' Off (featuring iconic tenor saxophonist Dexter Gordon), summarizes his enduring approach. Hancock balances/alternates user-friendliness with the cerebral, the cutting-edge with the proletarian. There are tracks showcasing his work as an accompanist, with Miles Davis' matchless '60s Quintet and Sonny Rollins alas, no electric-era Miles. Hancock redefined fusion and "created" acid jazz with his Mwandishi (imagine a jazz counterpart to Pink Floyd or Spiritualized) and Head Hunters (throbbing funk) bands, later delving into disco and early-on hip hop (1983's "Rockit," with Bill Laswell and DXT). Moving full circle, this collection concludes with an inspired reinvestigation of pre-In a Silent WayMiles with the VSOP band (with Freddie Hubbard in place of Miles). Essentialis so comprehensive it ought to be de rigueur in college curricula.
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