Herbie Hancock – Thrust (1974)

Realising his early ’70s “space-albums” Mwandishi, Crossings and Sextant had hardly set the world on fire, Herbie Hancock was deeply conflicted. The man wanted to make audacious art but he also wanted to be loved. By wishing so much to be considered by the critics as a jazz-great alongside Coltrane and Miles Davis he forgot to be entertaining, a crime punishable by miserly record sales and a dwindling fan-base. Having noticed his records would completely kill the mood at parties with their alien weirdness, a different approach into the hearts of the record-buying public was needed. Bravely risking a critical shitstorm and emboldened by a new-found love of funk, Hancock came up with Head Hunters which became a monster hit with the people. Of course the critics hated it for the sell-out that it was but that could hardly be helped. They couldn’t hear that the excitement of this music, and the reason it became the soundtrack for the times, was in the friction of the jazz-looseness grinding against the funk-tautness. Saxes mixed with African percussion as if it was the most natural combination in the world. Wisely choosing not to incorporate electric guitar into the mix that may have become a dreaded wah-wah clichè (as it did on his proto-disco Man Child from 1975), Hancock instead used spiky keyboard sounds in a percussive manner to stimulate the rhythm and swirling synth patches to occupy the mid-range. Groovy as hell it sold a million copies.

As an encore Herbie Hancock revisited this formula, with a few judicious tweaks which make Thrust a sequel that improves upon the original. Most obvious is how much tighter and more propulsive the groove is as layed down by new drummer Mike Clark who is crisper and plays with greater energy than Harvey Mason from the Head Hunters LP, and with Paul Jackson on bass they weave closely hewn rhythmic textures that are both dense and streamlined. You can imagine this is the sound of the funktastic space-ship Hancock is controlling on the cover in hyper-drive.

More structurally compact than its predecessor, Thrust fittingly emphasises forward motion with solos that are solidly integrated in the groove rather than all-out blowing jams, the exception being the sax solo during ‘Spank-A-Lee’ which closes the album. The tranquil ‘Butterfly’ is an engaging musical journey through exploratory atmospheres and gently evolving elements that are introduced with great subtlety acting as guideposts and anchoring the experience from drifting into oblivion like the earlier albums often did. ‘Palm Grease’ features colourful percussion and abrupt textural use of the clavinet and the stunning interplay on show during ‘Actual Proof’ demonstrates the synergy this lineup was capable of. The rhythmic backing provided by Clark and Jackson during both Hancock’s solo on electric piano and the later alto-flute solo by Bennie Maupin is simply bravura.

These two companion albums relaunched Herbie Hancock’s career, and he continued releasing commercial funk records and some live acoustic jazz through the rest of the decade and into the eighties.Three of the four songs from Thrust were captured on the live album Flood that was recorded by this band (plus a guitarist) in Tokyo, Japan during their 1975 tour. But for the full scintillating effect, go to the source. Thrust is jazz-funk par excellence.

 

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