The first Herbie Hancock LPs I got my hands on in the early 80s were “Secrets” (1976) and “Sunlight” (1978). I know, not your typical entry into the Herbie universe, but there you go. I just wanted to check out as many artists as possible who were playing on Stevie Wonder‘s “Songs In The Key Of Life”(1976), which was my most precious Christmas present in 1979 when I was 13. I was fascinated by the millions of electric keyboard and synthesizer sounds on those albums. Still am. It was only years later that I found out that Herbie was actually pretty criticized for those LPs. Selling out was the most frequent description.
But those albums simply stood the test of time. I’m still going back to all of those lengthy, milestone tracks like “Doin’ It”, “I Thought It Was You”, or “Come Running To Me”. And Herbie also extensively used the vocoder during that time. Which brings me to artists like Brandon Coleman, keyboardist for Kamasi Washington and lots of other acts too. His new album for the brilliant Brainfeeder album starts out with “All Around The World”, a disco/funk vocoder piece with a very soulful production going back to those glory days of the late 70s/early 80s. The keyboard work and catchy chorus make this an instant classic. Brandon uses the vocoder on all of the 12 tracks on offer. The fact that he has spent a lot of time with Babyface during the years is probably most prominent in the fact that all of the cuts here are actual songs, mostly between 3 and 4 and a half minutes long. Some arrangements seem a bit quirky, like on “A Letter To My Buggers”, but most work pretty well with its mix of nostalgia and up-to-date skills. Handclaps galore on “Addiction” which also boasts some female backing vocals, “Sexy” sounds like a Zapp/Roger tune.
I just wish that some of the pieces would have been stretched out a bit more, like “Reach For The Stars” or the amazing “Sundae” which is much too short and probably comes closest to the “Sunlight” session from Herbie. There are a couple of tracks which simply don’t work for me, like the rather unobtrusive “Love” or the chaotic “Giant Feelings”. But Brandon saves everything with the fantastic midtempo album closer “Walk Free”, reminding us how important and how wonderful that late 70s Herbie period was and that it can successfully be conveyed to here and now.