on 4 August 2001
Secrets may be one of Hancocks lesser known albums but it delivers the goods in a typically funky fashion. From the opening track, 'Doin it', to the cookin 'Swamp Rat', this album burns like the best of Hancocks funk/fusion offerings. The album contains great variety and is rewarding to those who are patient enough to allow the music to wash over them, with repeated listenings. The rhythm section is particularly tight and 'in the pocket' here, and the beautifully dreamy track, titled 'People Music', is reminiscent of 'Butterfly' from the mighty Thrust album. This album truly is a must have for any serious Herbie fan, or any funk fan for that matter.
Despite displaying, albeit only in a few places, what might retrospectively appear to be the first signs of inexorable drift towards more pop-orientated forms, this remains a top-drawer album from the Herb-meister. Track one embodies this perfectly, with most of the piece being a very guitar-heavy groove, actually quite reminiscent of mid-seventies Crusaders, but with a distinct Herbal twist. Guitarists Ray Parker, Jr and Wah-Wah Watson add fantastic fonky gee-tah. The simple chorus harmony refrain and talk-box vocals make for a mellow, laid, back sunny vibe. There are no horns at all, and there's even a robotic disco-bridge break.
Whereas Doin It is a trip to Herbie's circus funkus maximus, People Music returns to a jazzier feel, with Bennie Maupin's softly lilting reeds, and a more broken and abstract if still totally compelling groove. Herbie's spaced-out keys work, Paul Jackson's bubblin' bass and Kenneth Nash's percussion coloration all conspire to make this sound more like a natural progression from the Head Hunters era, albeit as a somewhat softer form of jazz funk, and the ubiquitous guitars are still a very groovy and welcome presence. As he had done on Head Hunters, Herbie revisits his Blue Note era hard-bop back-catalogue, this time modernising Canteloupe Island, giving it an almost cod-reggae feel. The original version was a classic, this is fine - brilliant by normal standards, but mere filler by Herbie's own high standards.
The guitar-lead groovin' gets back on track with Spider, which starts with an appropriately spidery guitar riff, before developing into a slow-building but harder funkin' groove akin to People Music in s ome respects, only funkin' a bit harder. By the time Bennie starts to blowin', the groove is building in intensity, such that it broings this listener out in goose bumps and grins, and can bring on crazed dancing even whilst seated. I'm not sure if it's James Levi or James Gadson (the latter, I suspect), whoever it is, they've got mighty deep pocket! Nash whips out his cuica, and monkeys about with it to great effect. No boubt about it: I'm caught in the Spider's web. As if this wasn't already great enough, next up is the album's piece de resistance, as far as I'm concerned, the sublimely mellow funk of Gentle Thoughts. I'm certain this is definitely Gadson: his light touch is unmistakable. The head melody on synth, against a lush pillow of Rhodes, with the chicken-scratch guitar and Maupin improvising in a gently understated 'call and response' manner... ah, too good! I just wish Herbie had taken his own advice, and kept on doin' it!
The last two tracks see the guitars recede a little into the background. Swamp rats find this later incarnation of Herbie's musical aggregate attempting something with a feel a little close to the broken, linear funk of the Mike Clark era Head Hunters band. It's very good, and Jackson's bass anchors the group wonderfully, and whilst it is amongst the more intense tracks on offer here, it's not quite as muscular or high-octane as the Clark-era group, largely account on the more laid back, simpler drumming. But hey, that's no bad thing, it's just a bit different. Sansho Shima is the most intense and fusion-istic number, sounding in places rather like the Head Hunters as they sounded on their Herb-free recordings. A solid example of the style, as good as it is, it's also the most dated sounded track, especially in the ensemble passages. It's only when the band start to come onto the boil under an acoustic piano solo from Herbie that it starts to sound truly top-notch.
An intriguing mixed-bag, largely homogenised by the sunny vibe, the guitars, and the frequent founding of grooves upon firm, funky foundations, this album is a real pleasure to listen to, and as mellow as the overall vibe often is, can get pretty intense. Although a more back-beat driven and pop-influenced sensibility is definitely making itself felt, this remains jazzy enough to compel on its own instrumental prowess terms.
on 25 June 2012
I've loved this album since it first came out on vinyl (even got to see this line-up, minus Ray Parker, in London - fantastic concert).
However, be warned, this CD reissue is slightly flawed: Ray Parker's opening lick on "Doin' It" has been clipped and there is a dodgy bit of tape flutter just before the end of "Spider". As another reviewer mentions, it's time Columbia remastered this classic album, but next time they should try and use the best possible source.
on 8 March 2001
This is Hancock's funkiest record ever; as a musician, this album changed my life, really. Herbie took the best of funk and mixed it with his 70's fusion point of view. With his gifted back-up musicians(groovy bass/drums, outter space wah-guitars,innovating horns), He plays what I would call a perfect example of fat Rhodes electric pianos, processed clavinets and vintage analog synths. This album will leave you astounded! You have 2 buy it !
on 23 November 2007
Yep, it's really good. I would give it five stars, but the last track is terrible. Four and a half then for tracks 1-6 which are just brilliant, proving again that Hancock does it better than anyone else: it's his understanding of the nature of rhythm - which you can hear on his earliest jazz stuff, like Maiden Voyage, Canteloupe Island and Watermelon Man. That's why disco, funk and soul are basically a breeze for this man, and he adds so much interest with his brilliant mastery of the keyboards.
Track four - Spider - is Shaftier than Shaft.
The album cover is superb too - what a beard, what an afro.