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Herbie Hancock Signs Up All-Star Jazz Band For Jam At L.A.’s Walt Disney Concert Hall

first_imgIn jazz, the “what” (i.e. what’s being played) doesn’t matter nearly as much as the “who” (who’s playing it) and the “how” (how it’s being played). Herbie Hancock drove that point home loud and clear while jamming on classics like “Chameleon”, “Cantaloupe Island”, and “Watermelon Man” at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles.Hancock is already a force in the jazz realm. Outside of his unreal talents on the piano, keyboard, keytar, vocoder, and whatever other instruments he decides to try out on any given night, with more than half a century in the music world and a resume that includes working with everyone from Miles Davis to Pharrell Williams, he more than merited being the sole headliner. Perhaps the greatest talent of a dean like Hancock, though, is his ability to bring great musicians together and create a jazz ensemble wherein any piece is capable of taking the lead.To that end, Herbie didn’t disappoint. On drums, he had Vinnie Colaiuta, who spent much of the 1990s backing Sting after stints with Frank Zappa and Joni Mitchell. On bass guitar, he trotted out James Genus, a towering giant who counts sitting in with the Saturday Night Live studio band as his day job. On keys, synthesizers, and saxophone, Hancock featured Terrace Martin, best known for helping to produce Kendrick Lamar’s album To Pimp a Butterfly—and, soon enough, Herbie’s next LP.The band only expanded outward from there. Over the course of the evening, Robert “Sput” Searight added another percussive presence, and 20-year-old Elena Pinderhughes enriched the soundscape with her vocals and woodwind work on the flute. Legendary L.A. sax man Kamasi Washington rounded out the crew with his massive stature and even bigger sound.They all worked wonderfully as a unit, fluttering in and out of solos, sharing the spotlight and always arriving back at base camp at the exact right moment. As much as Hancock did to combine them, his ability to hand off the proverbial baton—and let it make the rounds in its own time—set the stage for some truly spectacular jazz.It’s in that egalitarianism that jazz both converges with and diverges from jam music. Surely, bands like Phish, Lettuce, Umphrey’s McGee, moe., and, of course, the Grateful Dead follow many of the same precepts as Hancock. Allow every piece of the band to shine. Provide both a theme and the requisite room for variation. Trust your players to find synergy in the farthest-flung corners, and bring each other around to the shared space of a song.Still, in a jam band, there is (almost) always a focal point around which and whom the group and its music revolve. In the Dead, that was Jerry Garcia on guitar and vocals. The same for Phish with Trey Anastasio. Joe Russo’s Almost Dead switches up that formula by organizing around the drums, but the point is the same: find a driving force and let it ride.In a jazz band like Hancock’s, there is no need for leadership like that—at least from a sonic perspective. Truth be told, none of those exquisite musicians would have gathered in that way had Herbie not been the catalyst. But his approach, it seems, was the stuff of Deistic dreams. He only played God insofar as he decided who would partake. The rest he left up to the fates to decide, all the while affording each of his players the chance to express their talents and explore the possibilities therein, as individuals and as a unique lineup.[Photo: Jake Sudek]last_img

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