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.
Opening with the Head Hunters version of "Watermelon Man" and closing with the electro-embracing crossover hit, "Rockit," Mr. Funk is a semi-random skip across Hancock's Columbia recordings, and it technically spans 1973-1983 (at least going by release dates), rather than the 1972-1988 range printed on its cover.
Beyond category or idiom, audacious in its very idea, Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter perform a little over an hour of spontaneous improvised duets for grand piano and soprano sax. That's all no synthesizers, no rhythm sections, just wistful, introspective, elevated musings between two erudite old friends that must have made the accountants at PolyGram reach for their Mylanta. Hancock's piano is long on complex harmonies of the most cerebral sort, occasionally breaking out into a few agitated passages of dissonance. His technique in great shape, Shorter responds with long-limbed melodies, darting responses to Hancock's lashings, and occasional painful outcries of emotion.