Herbie Hancock, "Thrust," PC 32965
Herbie's last effort, "Head Hunter," went gold fast and will soon become "platinum" which designation means that over one million copies will have been sold. This is a stupendous plateau for any album to reach and it's simply unheard of for a record featuring jazz artists. But Herbie has always had an ear open to popular music and when, with the release of "Head Hunter," he combined it with a nose open to the scent of money, success was just a shot away.
After the release of "Sextant" (before "HH") Herbie decided that he wanted to communicate with a wider audience. He broke up his old band, and reformed with a unit that owes a lot to Sly Stone. Apparently there was some tension in the old band anyway. As synthesizerist Patrick Gleeson put it in "Down Beat," June 20. "Herbie was caught between two audiences, one that wanted to hear a lot of synthesized sound and one that didn't want to hear any of it. And there were similar problems in the band itself." The change of direction wasn't as abrupt as one might have thought - the presence of a reworked "Watermelon Man." an r&b based hit both for Herbie and for Mongo Santamaria in the early Sixties, was an implicit declaration, I think, that Herbie, with "H.H.," was coming home as much as striking out anew.
"Thrust," Hancock's newest opus, is square in "H.H.'s" groove. Once again we're treated to two sides of outrageously high-energy funk, thick with the exotic spices of two exceptional jazz improvisers - Herbie on many electric keyboards, and Bennie Maupin on various reeds. Paul Jackson, electric bass, and Bill Summers, percussion, remain at their positions and Mike Clark replaces Harvey Mason at the battery.
I think "Thrust" adds up to something approaching formula music, which isn't to say it doesn't cook like a motherfucker. For example, "Palm Grease" is solid James Brown. Maupin even comes on amazingly like Maceo Parker. On "Actual Proof" Herbie contributes a vicious, banging solo worthy of Fats Domino (or Cecil Taylor). "Butterfly" is a Mystic Moods synthesizer romance much like "Vein Melter" on "H.H.." and hung on easy Latin rhythms.
"Spank-A-Lee" is the cut that makes it all worthwhile though. Maupin finally really blows his top as the percussion builds unbearably and you wonder why he didn't get there before.
In sum, "Thrust" is unquestionably irresistible party music and even frequently diverting jazz music but there is a predictable quality, a slickness, that slightly detracts from the total effect. Highly recommended only if you don't have '"Head Hunters."
- Bill Adler