Words by: Andrew Bruss :: Images by: Amanda Ryan Albion
Herbie Hancock :: 08.25.07 :: Berklee Performance Center :: Boston, MA
Herbie Hancock performed an astonishing set of career spanning tunes at the Berklee Performance Center (BPC) in Boston that gave everyone in attendance an idea of where his roots began, and how he plans on moving forward. For a man with several dozen studio records under his belt, giving a performance that will touch on each era is a difficult task. However, by rearranging older material with a modern touch and utilizing progressively minded musicians to back him, Hancock managed to give everyone a taste of the old spiked with the sensory overload of the new.
| Herbie Hancock :: 08.25|
Sitting behind the drum kit for the evening was Berklee College of Music dropout and Zappa alumni Vinnie Colaiuta, a renowned drummer known for a preternatural degree of technical proficiency. Taking on bass and vocal duties for the night was Nathan East, a hired gun who's worked with legends ranging from Michael Jackson to Eric Clapton. On guitar, the least experienced of the bunch but perhaps the most articulate, was Lionel Loueke, a West African who studied at Berklee less than a decade ago. Hancock is a true legend and it comes as no surprise that he's developed such a top-notch band to take on the road. However, what really stood out was the equality that blanketed this performance. Even though Hancock's name was what filled the auditorium, in the keyboardist's mind (specifically seen in how he arranged the material), everyone onstage was an equal.
This inter-quartet dynamics shone from the moment the set began with "Butterfly" off the 1974 masterpiece, Thrust. The standard jazz format was abandoned relatively early for a style that allowed more independence than one would have expected. Generally speaking, in a jazz scenario, bass and drums tend to handle the rhythmic responsibilities while keys and guitars take care of the soloing. However, when Herbie and Co. rolled through the BPC traditional formats went out the window, as each musician dove head first into individual solos that masterfully flowed with their compatriots. The end result was an innovative display of instrumental independence with the hands-on teamwork one would expect from a jazz group.
This tight-rope walk was most present in Colaiuta's intricate rhythms. Drummers are infamous for being quarantined to the back of the stage, keeping things locked down while the guys up front wow the crowd. However, Colaiuta wouldn't have any of this. As Hancock and East traded licks, Colaiuta went berserk on his kit, working his way through a mind-boggling array of rhythmic patterns, as though he were hurdling over and around a rhythmical obstacle course.
| Lionel Loueke :: 08.25 :: Boston|
Next on the setlist was Hancock's classic "Watermelon Man," which was rearranged to incorporate a rhythmically bizarre composition written by Loueke called "Seventeens." Rather than keeping things to the simple 4/4 beat most folks are familiar with, the tune featured a beat count of seventeen, which Hancock himself said he simply couldn't keep up with.
Hancock dipped away from his array of keyboards and pianos to emerge front and center to challenge his bandmates on a keytar. As Hancock took things forward on his guitar-keyboard concoction, he began dueling with East in a way that forced each musician to one-up the other's last lick. After a back-and-forth that found East bettering Hancock, they took things into a round of instrumental Simon Says, showcasing East mimicking Hancock's licks on his bass. After East demonstrated his ability to keep up with Hancock, the keyboard legend brought the challenge to Loueke. He mimicked Hancock's licks accordingly, but trailed off on an independent path that spun the format of the challenge in a whole different direction.
When the jam-off came to a close, Hancock addressed the crowd, as he'd consistently done in between tunes throughout the night. He joked about the challenging nature of the previous jam, and openly let East know that he got the better of him. It was moments like this that demonstrated Hancock's fair nature as a bandleader. At a stage in his career when plenty of his contemporaries are developing backup bands that play what they're told, Hancock is going out of his way to pick from the musical cream of the crop in the hopes that they'll get the better of him. This managerial characteristic made this performance stimulating and eventful, but also, more importantly, contributed to the fearless, artistically innovative drive that has kept Hancock interesting all these years.
| Herbie Hancock :: 08.25|
In an era when The Rolling Stones tour in support of material that hasn't been fresh in forty years, Herbie Hancock kept things exciting by diving into collaborative projects that turn heads. The most recent example of this was 2005's Possibilities, which showcased Hancock collaborating with Top 40 poster children like John Mayer and Christina Aguilera, guitar legend Carlos Santana, Paul Simon and Trey Anastasio. As things at the BPC pushed on, Hancock grooved into a tune called "Stitched Up," a highlight on Possibilities originally voiced by Mayer. When they brought the tune to Berklee, East's vocals wound up doing the song a good deal of justice. Not only did East sing with a range beyond Mayer, his voice championed an authentic degree of soul that Mayer has been thirsting for for years. East's singing had every head in the house bobbing, and, more significantly, drew light to the fact that Herbie was behind the tune all along.
After a few more choice selections, Hancock and his band took a bow, only to return for an encore of "Chameleon" with sax great Kenny Garrett sitting in. By the end, we'd witnessed a solid set that featured old favorites and a taste of Hancock's newer material delivered with instrumental excellence full of challenges, artistic exploration and the consistent innovation that makes Herbie Hancock an incomparable genius.
Check out JamBase's exclusive interview with Herbie Hancock HERE...
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