Classics: Herbie Hancock – Chameleon (Columbia)
‘Chameleon’ pretty much describes what Herbie Hancock‘s been about throughout his impressive career. As a matter of fact, the man has never ceased pushing the boundaries of Jazz. Meanwhile, for this to happen, he experimented new technology, despite facing regular critics. But he also melted it with Funk and/or Electronic vibes… Eventually flirting with House or Drum & Bass later on…
Released back in 1973, ‘Chameleon’ stands as one of the 7 wonders in the history of Jazz/Funk. A masterpiece which Hancock co-wrote with Bennie Maupin (saxophone/clarinet), Harvey Mason (drums) and Paul Jackson (electric bass). Built around an instantly identifiable bassline and set to a funky beat… It features solos by Hancock and Maupin with percussion courtesy of Bill Summers.
Strangely enough, Columbia only gave it a 2:50′ verson as a 7inch. Be it as a promo as for its commercial release backed with ‘Vein Melter’ in 1974. As a result, no need suggesting you to rather check / get the full 15 minutes + version which opens the ‘Head Hunters’ album.
Countless luminaries covered ‘Chameleon’ along with time. From Maynard Ferguson to Maceo Parker and Sly & Robbie among others. Not to mention Henryk Debich and the Lodz Radio & TV Philharmonic Orchestra who titled it ‘Kameleon’.
Born in Chicago, IL in 1940, Herbie Hancock appeared as a child prodigy, starting with a Classic Music education by the age of 7. (*) He played the first movement of Mozart‘s Piano Concerto No. 26 in D Major, K. 537 (Coronation) at the age of 11. This happened at a young people’s concert on Feb. 05, 1952, with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (* Wikipedia).
He moved into Jazz during his high-school days, eventually giving birth to his first band before joining Donald Byrd as a pianist. Quite impressed, the latter got his label – Blue Note – to sign him. And by 1962, Hancock released his debut-album – ‘Taking Off’ – which includes the memorable ‘Watermelon Man’. A standard which was also to provide Mongo Santamaria with a hit 12 years later. Meawnhile, the album caught the attention of Miles Davis who recruited him as a member of his Second Great Quintet band.
Herbie Hancock released 7 albums on Blue Note including ‘Maiden Voyage’ in 1965 and ‘The Prisoner’ in 1969. He started venturing with electronic keyboards on his ‘Mwandishi’ album back in 1971. No surprisingly, the latter received mixed reviews. But Hancock, who admitted his inclination for Sly Stone‘s type of Funk, decided to get into groovier territories.
Relocating to Los Angeles, CA, he signed to CBS, forming a new band which he called The Headhunters. Somehow crossing over to Pop audience ‘The Head Hunters’ album kept on receiving criticism from some Jazz fans. And this despite the presence of the influential ‘Chameleon’.
Hancock kept on forward though, eventually going further with the vocoderized 1979 ‘Feets, Don’t Fail Me Now’. An album which features ‘You Bet Your Love’ and ‘Ready Or Not’. Meanwhile, its follow-up – ‘Monsters’ – included the heavily sought after ‘Stars In Your Eyes’ led by the late Gavin Christopher.
Besides, how not to remember his collaboration with the late Alphonse Mouzon? A collab which led to the recording of the ‘By All Means’ album and its memorable title track featuring Lee Ritenour, Freddie Hubbard, Jerry Hey and Paul Jackson.
By 1982, he contributed to Simple Minds‘ ‘New Gold Dream (81,82,83,84)’ album, playing a synthesizer solo on ‘Hunter And The Hunted’. He then scored one of his biggest successes the year after with ‘Rockit’, from his ‘Future Shock’ album. It became a worldwide anthem both for the breakdancers and for the hip-hoppers standing as the first mainstream single to feature scratching.
The early 2000’s saw him collaborating with Electronic Music luminaries such as Carl Craig, A Guy Called Gerald and Bill Laswell. This giving birth to his ‘Future To Future’ album back in 2001. Joe Claussell remixing ‘The Essence’ from the latter.
A definitive pioneer, Herbie Hancock also released more traditional pieces in the meantime. Under his own banner as with countless others artists. From Ron Carter to Don Cherry and also Freddie Hubbard. Not to mention John Mayall and Chick Corea to name but a very few.
He has also been quite active on the soundtracks front. Either writing commercials or films OST’s. From the score to Michelangelo Antonioni‘s film ‘Blowup’ in 1966 to the soundtrack to the controversial ‘The Spook Who Sat By the Door’ (1973) among others.