Herbie Hancock | Paris | 14 Novembre 2001 | L'Olympia Hall

Bonjour. I'm currently sitting here typing away at a cyber cafe on Rue L'Odessa in the Montparnasse district of Paris. Most of what I've written below comes from reflections jotted down the day after seeing Herbie Hancock in Paris. Thoughts and ideas just flow in this town. This piece may not be the best review I am capable of, but in the spirit of creative expression (which this city is ALL about), I wanted to share these thoughts with you while they are fresh.

The first thing that really took me about Paris is the respectful nature of the city. From the greetings given to strangers to the absolute beauty of the museums (the museum is often as beautiful as the art it houses). I was immediately happy to be here. The vibe was positive. A chance development in my life (and low airfares) provided the opportunity to venture to Paris on a few days notice for a quick escape from the confines of the good ole' US of A. As karma would have it, this jazz/funk freak discovered that Herbie Hancock [www.herbiehancock.com] was kicking off a tour in support of his new album Future to Future the night I arrived in Paris. The first thought that crossed my mind was simply one word - sick.

Having experienced "tour openers" in the past and knowing jet lag would be a concern I expected potential ups and downs from the performers and myself (though the prospect of sleep deprivation induced visuals during a Herbie show was quite enticing). A quick nap after devouring the art at the Musee D'Orsay, had me up and about ready to rock. Arrival at L'Olympia found a crowd of young people gathered outside socializing, flyering other gigs, and simply getting excited about seeing a jazz legend. Access was easy and my internet purchased ticket was ready and waiting for me.

As I entered I was conscious of expectation and tried to keep it in check. Some of my previous experience seeing Herbie tainted my view of live performance. The last time I saw him play as a duo with Wayne Shorter I almost fell asleep. Not to say the music was not good, it was just too soft and melodic (not enough rhythmic elements) for me to be interested that night. Still, I had to forget that experience because I was seeing the man with a full band including a DJ on stage. And, Herbie was playing Paris. (Did I mention Paris?) I had barely been able to listen to the new album before I headed to Europe so all I knew was that Herbie had delved into the world of trance/fusion/electronica on this project with the likes of Bill Laswell and DJ Disk to help out. The entire situation was boding to be an interesting evening.

L'Olympia has a storied history having hosted numerous musicians of different genres of music. The only artist I can recall that had played there was Miles. Not bad context. The Atrium of the venue is beautiful and ornate with a red carpeted area that was occupied by hundreds of Parisian young people smoking, socializing and acting downright pleasant. It reminded me of shows at home sans any sketchiness.

The venue itself is two tiered. The first floor is GA, fitting about 1,200 people, and that's where most of the 'kids' spent the show. The 2nd tier is reserved seating (capacity about 600-800) and that's where most of the serious listeners appeared to hang. The sound is impeccable. For me, this is the ideal venue seating arrangement. The party people get close to the artist and can feed the energy on stage, while the hardcore listeners can still observe, though a little farther away, and enjoy the show as well from the balcony. Balance and symmetry to the venue - another artistic element to my visit.

An opening act, DJ Shazz, hyped the audience with deep house and lounge music. A lot of people were digging his sounds as evidenced by the whistling after many tension/release moments of his set. I did not give Shazz too much of my ear as a I ventured out to the atrium to gear up for the real gig. I met a few parsians and discussed Herbie and realized these cats very much knew jazz and very much were schooled in Hancock. After a few bierres I was ready to rock and took my seat in the balcony, stage left, with a perfect view of Herbie's Korg, Clav, and Grand Piano. The night was his and I wanted to watch every second.

Now since I'm here typing at a cybercafe, I really can't cross reference the musicians that gigged with Herbie. He only said their names once and, honestly, I barely caught the names. There was bass player, a female drummer (who added silky vocals to some of the Future to Future tunes), a keyboardist (who played a lot of chords to give Herbie space to solo), a trumpet player (who eerily had a Miles electric sound and even played looking down and never at the audience, much like Miles) and DJ Disk on the turntables. You may remember DJ Disk from the Les Claypool, Robert Walter, Mike Clark, et al. Spur of the Moment jam session in March 2001 - [Read Review]. All I could think about was that I was seeing Herbie Hancock playing with a DJ in a country where the average listener knows and appreciates turntablism.

And then there was Herbie. Cool as ever, dressed in dapper slacks and a sweater hardly looking his age (is he 60 years old now?). His band was met with a rousing applause. Then as soon as the music started and Herbie stood up with the microphone, the place shut up completely. Not a peep from the audience. It was perfect.

[American Heads should take note: going to a show is first and foremost about the music. If you can't hear the music there really is no show. Be respectful (not silent) and learn to talk below the volume of the music and respect the listeners around you. It works.]

So the gig began and Herbie grabbed some lyrics obviously from the Future to Future album. He walked out to the front of the stage and read like a poet at open mic nite. He read for a minute or two about the future of music and relationships among man and then the thing just took off. I don't know the songs played but it was truly wonderful.

The bass and drums were locked in, alternating between trance beats and jazz rhythms. The 2nd keyboard player was doing his job letting Herbie meander through the compositions alternating between the three keyboards in front of him often settling on the grind of the clavinet. At times the drummer chimed in with soulful sounding lyrics, that unfortunately, due to the house mix were difficult to discern from where I was sitting.

My 2nd favorite moment of the night came about 30 minutes into the show when Herbie introduced the band for the only time. The last musician was DJ Disk. Herbie introduced Disk by stating: "now here's a musician playing an instrument that's been around a long time. Let's see what he can do." Disk then tore into some scratches which led the band into a very Miles electric jam (think "Shh/Peaceful" from In a Silent Way). For all I know it could have been something from those years that Herbie helped pioneer this sound with Miles. The trumpet player led the way providing those signature bursts of sound over the quick paced half chaotic/half grooving music. Something to behold in the context of the entire situation. After a few more Future to Future songs, the highlight of the nite came when Herbie "broke out" "Butterfly."

Now, understand I saw Mike Clark, Bill Summers and Paul Jackson perform this tune on 9.21.01 as part of the Prescription Renewal at a small club in Cleveland Ohio called the Grog Shop. These guys all played "Butterfly" live with Herbie in the early to mid 70's and I thought on that night in September, this sublime yet powerful composition would bring me to my knees. It was not to be as the crowd in Cleveland drowned out the music even when I was standing five feet from the stage. In Paris, however, the place was dead silent and the opening notes brought me to my feet.

Since I appeared to be the only one standing in the balcony area, I moved behind all of the seats as Herbie and Co. brought this one up a notch. What started with subtle melodies escalated into a crashing groove led by Disk and Herbie on the clav. Perfect. After the song appeared to end, Herbie started the opening notes of the "Butterfly" chorus again. Herbie playing "Butterfly" in Paris. An epic experience for this writer. Perfect.

Another unidentifiable trance tune had lots of head bobbing in the audience and then with a DJ on board, what else is the man going to do but drop his 1980's classic "Rockit" on the audience. In full freak out mode, I may have torn a hole in the carpet of the venue. Dancing up a storm, even contemplated busting into an earthworm, or trying to complete that windmill that always escaped my breakdancing grasp in middle school. Regardless, the band was having a ball on stage, Disk was cutting up the 1 and the 2's, the drummer and bassist were locked in and Herbie's synth was accented by the trumpet. Maybe only four minutes long, it still rocked the place. The crowd erupted as Herbie bowed and left the stage. Not knowing whether an encore was protocol in France, I felt satisfied. It was everything I could hope for.

Electronica meets legendary jazz. Fusion on the stage. The same principles that were evident when Miles' jazz met rock during the electric years and when Herbie's jazz met funk and rock when he dropped the Headhunters on the world in 73. To me this gig felt historically significant and I was grinning ear to ear. So when he came out for an encore, I thought to myself, he can play "Bouncin' Around the Room" and I'll be satisfied. Ah, but the great entertainers do much more than that.

"Chameleon" to end the show? Yup. In Paris. Funked out. At this point, the place was freaking out. Not many dancing in the balcony but the floor seemed to shimmy (a little tight to really bust moves down there). Lots of yelps and whistles throughout the first minutes of this song. Respect was trumped for a few moments by the sheer excitement of the bust out. This song was all Herbie on the keys and clav. Three ending fakeouts before the tune finally stopped. The legend played the legendary groove. Paris was totally awash in the funk.

I wondered if this was a typical musical experience for Parisians or was this night epic in its own right? I does not matter. It was perfect for me. My first night in this city forever changed my life and I can't wait to make it back here to immerse myself in the culture, food, drink and of course see live music again.


Franklin Malemud
JamBase | Cleveland Head Way Out on the Road
Vaya Ven Música Viva!

[Published on: 11/16/01]

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