On the cover of his acclaimed new album, Future 2 Future, the 60-year-old Herbie Hancock stares out at the viewer through modish specs, looking rather like an older brother to LTJ Bukem, the British drum 'n' bass DJ who has re-mixed a track from the album for a 12-inch single aimed at the club market.
Future 2 Future is Hancock's first attempt for ages to address the body politic of contemporary dance music, a form which he helped to create. Nearly 40 years ago, his composition "Watermelon Man" became a pop hit, defining the hybrid of soul-jazz. Joining Miles Davis shortly afterwards, Hancock participated in the electric-jazz experiments of Bitches Brew before going on to more or less invent jazz-funk with the platinum-selling Headhunters. Then, in 1983, he made the first jazz/hip-hop crossover, with Future Shock and "Rockit". Future 2 Future reunites Hancock with his producer on Future Shock, Bill Laswell.
"Bill Laswell brought the concept to me," Hancock says on the phone from San Francisco, where he was appearing in a concert to mark the tenth anniversary of Davis's death. "I didn't know anything about what electronica, but Bill said it had been influenced by some of my more avant-garde work from the Seventies on. The most intriguing thing was that I apparently had an involvement with this music that I wasn't even aware of.
"It's a music being done by young people and it has a connection to popular genres but the palette is very broad, and that was what I was interested in," Hancock says. "Bill was thinking about combining the musicians he'd been working with for years with younger ones.The naivety of these people was an attraction to me. If you think about some of the people I've worked with, like Miles Davis when I was in my twenties, he encouraged young musicians to take chances, to get outside the comfort zone, to not be afraid."
Future 2 Future's recording wasn't without hitches. "For the first four days I really had no idea what I was doing. I played some rough tracks for a young friend and he said, 'Ok, I'm going to bring you some records tomorrow'. All it took was some signposts."
'Future 2 Future' is out now on Transparent Music. Herbie Hancock: Forum, London NW5 (020 7344 0044) 21 Nov; Birmingham Academy, (0121 262 3000), 22 Nov; Apollo, Manchester (0161 242 2560), 23 Nov