In conjunction with the release of Ken Burns' ten-part, 19-hour epic PBS documentary Jazz, Columbia issued 22 single-disc compilations devoted to jazz's most significant artists, as well as a five-disc historical summary. Since the individual compilations attempt to present balanced overviews of each artist's career, tracks from multiple labels have thankfully been licensed where appropriate. This volume illustrates Herbie Hancock's metamorphosis from one of acoustic hard bop's finest composers to a pioneer of electric jazz-rock fusion, and finally into his brief yet popular flirtation with electro (the breakdance music that was techno's immediate forerunner). Serving in Miles Davis' legendary '60s quintet would have made Hancock a major figure in hard bop regardless, but his own albums for Blue Note were consistently impressive as well. Each of the four tracks here from those works -- "Watermelon Man," "Cantaloupe Island" (later sampled by jazz-rappers Us3 for a major hit), "Maiden Voyage," and "Speak Like a Child" -- are stone-cold classics. Hancock's highly popular fusion era is represented by three selections: one from his Mwandishi band that recorded for Warner Brothers and two from his Headhunters years on Columbia. And, of course, there's "Rockit," the catchy, all-electronic single that became a surprise hit thanks to MTV's embrace of its innovative video. The only questionable inclusion is a latter-day recording of the Stevie Wonder tune "You've Got It Bad Girl"; while it isn't bad, the space could have been used for another selection from one of Hancock's more historically important periods, since both the hard bop and fusion years were fertile enough to be covered in more detail. But even though there aren't many tracks on Ken Burns Jazz due to the lengths of the pieces included, the compilation does give an excellent idea of both the flavor and quality of Hancock's most important work.
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AllMusic Review by Steve Huey