RECORD REVIEW: Herbie Hancock – Perfect Machine

Perfect Machine– Columbia 40025: Perfect Machine; Obsession; Vibe Alive; Beat Wise; Maiden Voyage/P. Bop; Chemical Residue.

Personnel: Hancock, Apple Computer, synthesizers, piano, Vocoder; Jeff Bova, synthesizer, programming; William “Bootsy” Collins, bass, Vocoder; Sugerfoot, vocals; Nicky Skopelitis, Fairlight drums, DST, turntables; Mico Wave, keyboards, bass, talk box, Vocoder.


Perfect Machine may not be that different from Herbie’s Man-Child if you think about it. Fourteen years ago he had Blackbyrd McKnight scratching rhythms, now he has DST. Then he had Wah Wah Watson on Voice Bag, now he uses “Bootsy” Collins and Sugarfoot on Vocoders and Talk Boxes. Then Herbie was prying sounds out of Arp Odysseys and Hohner Clavinets, today he’s calling them up on a Mac Plus and digital keyboards. Mike Clark, Harvey Mason, and James Gadson banged out the
funk on Man-Child, whereas on Machine the beats are sparser, etched out on Fairlight computer with huge sampled sounds. But let me tell you, the groove is undeniable here in ’88, like it was back in ’75.

There‘s a pulse running all the way through the title track, Perfect Machine, that never lets it rest, as DST revs the fun up on his turntable breaks. Herbie has some great ideas in there, and some of the sounds will stop you in your tracks, but this track goes on about two minutes too long; especially excruciating when it’s Herbie’s vinyl being wasted.

The two best cuts are Obsessions and Beat Wise, uncompromising but subtly-played dance grooves that feature the familiar voices
of the Ohio Players’ Sugarfoot, and “Bootsy” Collins of Parliament/Funkadelic. Obsession has only a sly trot, without much trace of a traditional drum part at all. it’s a wide—open track, a nice change from the more traditional percussion part on Vibe Alive. By the end of
Alive I’m looking at Herbie’s equipment list, wondering why none of it sounds good. But he turns around on Beat Wise to lay down a
sophisticated, edgy groove, with interesting bell-like chords, robot—in—distress turntable breakdowns, and some great “Owww”s by Sugar. Beawise is right.

Herbie plays it low-key on Maiden Voyage (post—bop), standing out only when playing his own voices on a synthesizer, or jamming on acoustic grand while the Grand Mixer does his best to get the groove right. But Chemical Residue makes use of some interesting industrial sounds, as well as a sampled choir, and a bed of rustling keyboards that sound plucked, like harpsichords. It’s one of the prettiest things Herbie’s done in his new setting with producer Bill Laswell.

The Laswell/Hancock partnership shows signs of growth here, sound-wise, past their initial success of several years ago. Maybe Laswell will want to add a few more acoustic instruments in future collaborations, as he did on his last solo record. Many jazz purists will scoff at this record, but Herbie is right on top of the dance groove, taking that music up a notch, playing in the style and jamming the stuffings out of it.

— robin tolleson

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