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Jazz review: Herbie Hancock at Walt Disney Concert Hall

March 6, 2011 | 12:19 pm

It’s a blessing and a curse of living in Los Angeles that we’re almost able to take a Herbie Hancock concert for granted. A regular and welcome presence around the city’s music scene, particularly since being named the L.A. Philharmonic’s Creative Chair for jazz last year, Hancock could have easily sailed under the radar going into Saturday night’s show at Disney Hall, considering his 70th birthday concert and retrospective at the Hollywood Bowl was just under six months ago.

But the attentive, near-capacity crowd who turned out witnessed something special. Joined by an all-star band that included two fellow pillars of jazz history in saxophonist and longtime friend Wayne Shorter and bassist Dave Holland, along with the chameleonic Vinnie Colaiuta on drums, Hancock wasn’t offering a summation of his career or highlighting a recent album like 2010’s ambitious but uneven “The Imagine Project” or the Grammy-winning “River: The Joni Letters” (a possibility since this quartet constituted the core of that album’s lineup).

No, this was a night of unfettered, all-acoustic adventure, one that opened with nearly an hour of uninterrupted music so freely evolving and expressive there was a feeling Hancock had simply invited friends over to his house on Grand Avenue for a casual jam session.

With Hancock getting things started with a contemplative solo that simmered into a rumble of notes from his left hand, Holland eased behind him with a slow-burning bass figure as Colaiuta gradually opened the window to a storm behind his drums. As the trio coalesced into an off-kilter melody, Shorter entered on tenor, twisting the music into new corners as Hancock hammered on the keys to punctuate his advances.

The second piece began as a showcase for Colaiuta, who may have been the least familiar name on the bill but was both the night’s anchor and its wild card. Unleashing an orchestra of percussion at several points, Colaiuta exhibited an otherworldly way of subtly mutating a song’s core, boiling it down into something unrecognizable and deftly bringing it back. With Hancock tiptoeing playfully behind him, Holland took a solo of his own that began with an elegant grace but exploded in a tangled workout, setting the stage for the song’s shift into an anthemic drive that brushed against New Orleans R&B.

Finally, the familiar melody of Hancock’s “Maiden Voyage” crept out of his piano like a murmured prayer, marking the evening’s first visit to familiar territory, though even that was gently deconstructed in the band’s restless hands. Later, Hancock’s irresistibly funky “Cantaloupe Island” appeared to close down the night with a raucous fanfare behind Shorter’s assured saxophone lead and Hancock’s piano, which stuttered and danced around Colaiuta and Holland’s deep groove.

While Hancock can be an engaging storyteller onstage, he paused only once to introduce his band, along with “Visitor from Nowhere,” a shape-shifting and mystery-filled Shorter composition from a 1997 duet album with Hancock that had been reworked for a tour with Holland and Brian Blade in 2004.

“I’m not trying to snub anybody by not talking,” Hancock said. “I was just hoping and praying the music would speak for itself.”

Mission accomplished.

-- Chris Barton


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Photo: Herbie Hancock, left, and Wayne Shorter at Disney Hall. Credit: Christina House/Los Angeles Times

Comments () | Archives (10)

That was a sensational concert. I thought the opening piece could have been called Genesis, the way it opened with tentative uncertainty, gradually spread into discordant chaos, and then found some melodic order that created beauty out of the chaos. In the hands of the master and his superbly talented partners, the concert was constant treat.

Herbie was masterful and I thoroughly enjoyed the concert, but for one moment. During the Shorter composition, a woman in the row behind me rose unexpectedly screaming "I can't take it anymore" and barreled her way through the aisle, crashing into people and disrupting the divine moment. Evidently, she did not appreciate the genius before her.

I had been waiting for this concert since i bought the 'season jazz package', and while i did enjoy very much Natalie Cole and Wynton Marsalis - not so much Brad Mehldau! - i was REALLY looking forward to seeing the legend himself.
On my way there I was wondering what he was going to play - with a career spanning many decades and such a repertoire, anything was possible.
He came on stage with another two legends, Shorter and Holland - i did not recognize the drummer at first...
The concert was obviously great, with a fantastic ending. To me, the only downside was the drummer; I really found him excessive and disturbing (kept wishing that a miracle happened and Tony Williams would appear in his place).
However, the treat of hearing Herbie, Dave and Wayne together on stage made it worthwhile!

Thank you for this excellent review. Wish we could get more jazz coverage from the LA Times.

We know they all wonderful musicians unfortunately I don't really agree with the previous post , I found the evening extremely boring , I never got into the music , with long intro from Herbie getting us not very far . Wayne was not so much better . This intellectual and "sophisticated " music bored me to death , come on ! that's not live jazz ! I have to say that the new young scene in new york and specially in Europe this days is so much more exciting ! Sorry Herbie !

I think the women who rose and left screaming " I can't take it anymore" was the person who represented the majority of the crowd during this very disappointing concert. I am not sure I would call this jazz and the applauds were really out of respect of what these two giants of jazz have contributed in the past to jazz. Many of us felt so disappointed by the chaos and the non-melodic non harmonic disorder that the concert felt exactly like that woman's scream " I cannot take it anymore". Everyone played on top of each other and not together- a huge chaos- a Rap jazz- The first think I did after with my son after the concert ended was to listen to some real jazz in our car on the way home and at home to make sure the music we so love was still there.

I agree w/Roger and Moshe ..... the whole was much less than the sum of the parts!!! Very disappointing.

The people who felt uncomfortable with this music were probably looking to hear some his/their "greatest hits". These musician have made a career by playing music that is initially uncomfortable not only to audiences, but even to themselves. Most of what they do has been recognized as "genius" only in retrospect These gentleman are in my opinion incapable of resting on their laurels. They have to constantly pursue new explorations. They allowed the audience to go with them that night as they explored. They aren't trying to prove themselves - they are trying to prove that there is new territory to explore.

Fantastic Concert! Herbie Hancock never lets you down and his band was nothing but the cream of the crop. Wayne Shorter, plain and simple is a genius - the greatest living sax player hands down! Dave Holland played solid and held the groove. Vinnie Colaiuta is remarkable. To see him live is a treat for both the ears and eyes. Vinnie is in constant motion, on-time/ off-time, he is alway there. He held it all together. I am so very glad I saw this show.

Well, if it was anything like the Brad Mehldau concert I saw in January I too would've been a bit disappointed. Granted, Brad's amazing but his repertoire(playing along with a chamber orchestra along with the absence of any pop tunes) was kind of disappointing. I would've liked at least a few of the tunes on his CD's.


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