Yesterday, today, and tomorrow
Last night, Herbie Hancock played a show at Tanglewood in Lenox, Massachusetts. My wife and I caught it on our way home from Cape Cod. What struck me most, as I write my book about the Mwandishi band, is how much Herbie’s current playing captures the essence of what he was doing during those seemingly more free form days in the early 1970s. Last night’s “Imagine Project” show was quite stunning. Of course it was musically eclectic, yet everything was tied together by Herbie’s comping, which turns all things into one unfolding story, irrespective of the surface detail of the music. Is it “funk”, “jazz”, “pop”, whatever? The question has absolutely no meaning here.
What I found in his playing, as I did with Herbie Hancock’s Joni record, was a searching quality familiar to me from all that I’ve been listening to of the Mwandishi band (and I’ve listened a lot). Whether the textures were deep funky grooves or sinuous lines that float and melt, the music is ever rising and falling, shifting ever so subtly, building through repetition and variation. Whether Herbie solos or comps, he seems to have an intuitive sense of where he’s going, and it is within the searching for how he will get there and what side-turns in the road will bear interesting fruit, that the most interesting moments emerge. Last night, these qualities filtered through the playing of everyone else in the band – and it was a terrific band, with a wonderful sense of rapport and playful interchange.
Herbie Hancock’s ‘Imagine Project’ on the road was a romp, sometimes delicate and other times foot stomping, through nearly fifty years of his music. The tunes, new and old, all became somehow part of one integral fabric. Favorite moments were a floating texture that emerged between verses of Joni Mitchell’s ‘Court and Spark’, the deep groove and wild interplay between Herbie, drummer Vinnie Colaiuta and bassist James Gebus on ‘Actual Proof’, and a gorgeous segue between the brief appearance of ‘Dolphin Dance’ and ‘Round Midnight’, the latter beautifully phrased by guitarist Lionel Loueke. I could go on and on.
There were important musical lessons that Herbie Hancock learned while playing with Miles (and with Donald Byrd and Eric Dolphy) that he explored further with the Mwandishi band. And some of them were very clearly in evidence throughout Herbie’s music last night.