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Herbie Hancock At The Hollywood Bowl

Ryan Faughnder |
September 2, 2010 | 11:02 a.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

Herbie Hancock performing at the Hollywood Bowl (Ryan Faughnder)
Herbie Hancock performing at the Hollywood Bowl (Ryan Faughnder)
Any attempt to summarize Herbie Hancock’s career and legacy is guaranteed to neglect something essential. Thank God, then, that no such attempt was made at his Seven Decades: The Birthday Celebration Wednesday night at the Hollywood Bowl.

The keyboardist and bandleader divided the three-hour concert into two halves, each representing two polarities of his personality: Revered Jazz Icon Hancock, and Commercial Pop Crossover Hancock.

The first half represented his relatively straight-ahead, modal jazz and hard bop work of the early 1960s. For this he pulled together an all-star band that included longtime collaborator Wayne Shorter on soprano sax and younger classicist Terence Blanchard on trumpet. Shorter’s importance to Hancock’s career became all the more obvious when the concert kicked off with Shorter’s own composition “Footprints.”

During solo sections, it fascinated me to hear the interplay between Shorter’s introspective, searching lines and Blanchard’s full-throated licks and runs, some of which had echoes of Miles Davis’ solos from “Miles Runs the Voodoo Down.” It was a little like seeing Hank Aaron and Alex Rodriguez on the same field.

Then with “Maiden Voyage” and “Cantaloupe Island,” it was time for 26-year-old double bassist Esperanza Spalding to flex. The Dave Holland acolyte played with levity and authority, and when she traded licks with Hancock, he wasn’t leading her – he was playfully chasing.

For the second half the stage literally spun around to reveal Hancock’s latest vision, "The Imagine Project," an ambitious more-is-more experiment of “peace through global collaboration,” as he put it.

India.Arie joined the now all-electric band for a Caribbean soul-driven cover of John Lennon’s “Imagine” followed by a chameleonic performance of “Watermelon Man,” for which Hancock broke out the keytar and strutted around like a rock star.

Injecting even more festive energy to the show, the Debbie Allen Dance Academy joined in for a Malian funk-infused reworking of Bob Marley’s “Exodus.” ("Fela!," anyone?)

The raw, bluesy version of “Space Captain” featuring singer Susan Tedeschi and her husband, slide guitarist Derek Trucks, was a welcome break from the second half’s tendency to feel like a hippie/peacenik honor band showcase.

While some musical icons like John Coltrane and James Brown have reached legendary status by creating an identity through one defining sound, Hancock has done nothing of the sort. His success comes from his ability to do anything with just about anyone.

As such, it was possible for someone to love one half of the concert and completely disconnect with the other. And while the event inevitably left out music that deserved celebration (like 1970’s wildly experimental Mwandishi album), it was a pleasure to see these distinct slices of imagination at play.

To reach reporter Ryan Faughnder, click here.



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