Review by Matt Collar - Allmusic.com
The idea of collecting tracks off several of jazz legend Herbie Hancock's albums from the influential '60s Blue Note years through to his Grammy-winning 2007 album River is a nice idea that doesn't quite come together on Verve's Then and Now: The Definitive Herbie Hancock. Obviously designed to showcase the whole of Hancock's career post his 2007 Grammy win for River: The Joni Letters, Then and Now doesn't really give you the full picture. With only five tracks devoted to his '60s/'70s recordings (arguably his most essential and defining period), there's just not enough "then" here to really qualify this as a "definitive" collection. Not to mention that Then and Now basically ignores Hancock's '70s recordings, opting for merely an "edit" of "Chameleon" and the album version of "Watermelon Man," which comes out of chronological order near the end of the collection. Add in that you only get a live version of "Rockit" and you're left with less a definitive view of Hancock's career and more of a thumbnail sketch.
This disc is a bit unusual in a few ways. Vibraphonist Dave Pike sticks here exclusively to the marimba, while pianist Herbie Hancock is heard throughout on organ, an instrument he rarely played again. The band also includes two trumpeters (most notably Clark Terry who has a few short solos) and a rhythm section with guitarist Billy Butler. Most of the music consists of obscurities and is open to the influences of the boogaloo and pop rhythms of the era; highlights include Hancock's "Blind Man, Blind Man," "Sunny" and "Devilette." An interesting effort.
Mirroring his onetime boss and mentor Miles Davis' own protean output, Herbie Hancock has explored hard bop, soul-jazz, fusion, funk-rock, soundtracks, hip-hop-inflected pop ("Rockit"), and many permutations in between. His early work for Blue Note, though, offers the best entrée for newcomers. Compiled from five of his albums for the label and covering a period from 1962-1968, this fine sampler includes highlights from his debut, Takin' Off ("Watermelon Man"), the classic Maiden Voyage (the title track and "Dolphin Dance"), and the early electric album Speak Like a Child (the title track and "Riot"). Add to this more indelible cuts like "Cantaloupe Island" and "One Finger Snap," not to mention the presence of numerous '60s jazz luminaries (Dexter Gordon, Freddie Hubbard, Thad Jones, Hank Mobley, Billy Higgins, et al.), and you have perfect way to get a taste of some of the best modern jazz committed to wax.