Friday, July 30, 2010
Herbie Hancock’s 2010 World Tour: Social Music for a New Era
Herbie Hancock’s got something to say about the chaos in the world and he’s saying it with music. He calls it The Imagine Project, which is the title to his latest recording released in June on his own Hancock Records label. It’s also the theme for his world tour that’s returning to the U.S in August.
Speaking in early July from a hotel in Spain overlooking the Mediterranean Sea -- ahhhhh. The Life -- Hancock says the tour is going well. The album “The Imagine Project” is an all-vocal offering that uses musicians from all over the worlds. It was recorded in many parts of the world. And the songs come from different corners of the world, but they have a common thread of global unity. And some of the songs are very familiar to people: Dylan’s “The Times They Are a Changin,’” Lennon’s “Imagine,” “Tomorrow Never Knows,” “A Change is Gonna Come” and more.
[Photo: Taken by me, Herbie Hancock at the Newport Jazz Festival, 2008]
He’s joined by joined by Seal, Pink, Jeff Beck, Ceu Vagarosa, Dave Matthews, Lisa Hannigan, Derek Trucks, Susan Tedeschi, Chaka Khan, The Chieftains, Marcus Miller, Wayne Shorter, and more.
To pull it off on tour, without the availability of those folks, he’s carrying Vinny Colaiuta on drums and Lionel Loueke on guitar. Those guys have toured with Herbie for a while. A second keyboard player, Greg Phillinganes, sings some songs. So does young, unheralded singer Kristina Train.
The bass player, who also sings some selections, may be someone to play attention to.
“Tal Wilkenfeld … She’s plays electric. She’s 24, but she looks like she’s 12. She plays like she’s 60,” said Hancock. “I mean in the sense that she plays like a really experienced, knowledgeable bass player. Amazing technique and command of the instrument that just astounds me.”
If Herbie is astounded … well … Listeners should prepare to be astounded.
The album is slick, with good arrangements of the songs. The international flavor is very hip. And appropriate. No long Herbie solos, but his piano touch is heard and felt. Quality stuff. “Space Captain,” who people know from Joe Cocker on his “Mad Dogs and Englishmen” record, is super, with blues woman Tedeschi getting to the emotional core. Her husband, Derek Trucks, a fabulous slide rock/blues guitarist who is a jazz fan with strong improvisational skills, follow’s a gorgeous Hancock solo with a superb solo of his own, giving the guitar a vocal quality that displays his emotional take on the vehicle.
For the listener, Herbie hopes the music “will trigger something in their hearts that really wants to move forward and wants to be reminded about the importance of moving forward and wants to be stimulated to be proactively involved in creating the kind of forward motion that we want, globally. That’s what I’m hoping for.”
Reminded that when jazz went electric in the latter 1970s, spear-headed by his former boss Miles Davis and fostered by Miles alumni Chick Corea, Wayne Shorter, Joe Zawinul and Hancock himself, Miles called his music “social music,” Herbie said “it was. This is also social music in a different forum. Music can be purely entertainment and that’s fine. It can also be entertainment with a message, which is what this is. It’s a message about the future. It’s more like a call to arms. Let’s rise up against our negative self. Against our passive self and start proactively leading the kind of globalized world we want to live in and want our children’s children to live in.”
Hancock also is quick to note that he is politically astute and his music can be aimed to express that. He also has no problem giving his opinion on the state of affairs. An avowed fan of President Obama, he sees promise in a leader who is trying to men the many problems in the nation. But the problems are global and should be cured with a global vision.
He and I concur with the ruination and corruption that eight years of George Asshole Bush (my moniker, not Herbie’s) wreaked upon America. (“Who in the hell would want to be president of the United States, especially now? It’s the worst job in the world,” he noted.)
“But it’s only been a year and a half and Obama’s done amazing stuff. The health care. Now the overhaul of the Federal Reserve. He’s delved into some things that none of us even knew about like the commission that was designed to monitor all sorts of drilling and how corrupt that thing was. You’re looking at a whole stream of things that are wrong and that need to be addressed. And he has to do it at the hardest of times, an election year. When none of those guys (in Congress) will do anything to jeopardize their getting re-elected.”
He’s particularly critical of the abomination that is Arizona’s immigration law. While it is widely ridiculed, there are supporters outside Arizona, and a few other states are supporting it.
“What’s wrong with these people? They’ve been lied to and they believe the lies. That’s one thing the Republicans are really goods at. Lying. … They have kept a hold on the American people by keeping them dumb and stupid and not educating them with the truth. They are masters at that,” said the pianist.
“There’s a lot of work we need to do. I’m trying to do my part.”
Despite the uphill battle the Obama administration, Hancock is optimistic. “I bet that before his four years are up, the tide is going to change enough so that people will see the positive beginning of what he’s accomplished. Enough to be re-elected. That’s what I’m hoping for. Then, America still has a possibility of living up to what the real mission of America is. If we don’t re-elect Obama, we will fail the reason for America existing in the first place. I don’t want that to happen. And it has to do with the message that’s on The Imagine Project.”
Enough of the political conversation, which stopped when he commented “OK. I’m preaching to the choir.”
The jazz legend, at age 70, continues to be vital and vibrant. It will be interesting -- hell, it always has been -- to see what twists and turns his creative output takes as he strolls into his 70s. Though the legend’s age is no factor. He remains a pure artist, bright, imaginative, curious, alert, enlightened. He’s a walking American legend. An American treasure.
No, a global treasure.
And just in case there are some who question whether Hancock has gone jazz soft, and don’t know if they’re ready to face an all-vocal Herbie outing, go see the concert when it’s in your area (For NY Capital District folks, it’s Aug. 9 at Tanglewood in Lenox, Mass). The live versions are sure to have a different magic than recorded versions. And: “I also play ‘Chameleon,’ ‘Cantaloupe Island’ ‘Speak Like a Child,’ ‘Round Midnight,’ ‘Maiden Voyage.’”