Secrets is Herbie Hancock's fourth album since Head Hunters, whose huge crossover sales in 1973 preceded similar successes by musicians like Grover Washington Jr. and George Benson. And though complaints have cropped up ad nauseam, sayÌng that Hancock's electric funk sold out as well as broke out, the fact remains that his instrumentals have been the most sophisticated and original in a genre they virtually created. Endless imitations provide the evidence.
But after all those imitations, Hancock's music is not nearly so new. And he compounds the problem by trying to find another hit of the same magnitude as "Chameleon," the song that made Head Hunters a monster seller. Though Secrets is attractive, it's doubtful that any of its tracks will become hit singles, and Hancock may have painted himself into a corner.
Still, Secrets is something of a departure for Hancock. A major difference is band personnel, the key being the addition of Wah Wah Watson (aka Melvin Ragin). Watson's guitar and vocals have altered the sound of the band, while his production assistance and songwriting (he cowrote five of the seven tracks) have altered the content. Wah Wah's presence tends to zip Herbie into a formulaic straightjacket.
The immediate example is the album's opener, the disco-ish "Doin' It," which for two minutes is an absolute killer, but then boringly repeats itself for another six minutes. The rest of the first side fares only slightly better; "People Music" is intriguing, but explores the same dreamy terrain Hancock described in older songs such as "Butterfly."
Side two is far better, its four tracks building as one entity through neat (but not too cute) segues to a galvanic finish where Herbie adds to his solo, with characteristic humor and imagination, quotes from "Wade in the Water" and "A Love Supreme."
Overall, Secrets is too limited a representation of Hancock's musicality. And there is no acoustic piano; for that, you have to hear Herbie's brilliant soloing on Jaco Pastorius (the solo album by Weather Report's new bass guitarist) or The Jewel in the Lotus, by Herbie's one-man horn section, Bennie Maupin. (RS 228)
(Posted: Dec 16, 1976)
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