I think I will always be involved with youth-oriented music because I haven't forgotten that I was young once. The seeds of youth will stay alive as long as you don't kill them. – Herbie Hancock
At 79 Herbie Hancock’s seen, and done it all. When Hancock was just 22-years old he joined Miles Davis in his Second Great Quintet. By the time he was in his late-twenties he was recruited to score television shows and movies. He’s won an Oscar and 14 Grammy’s, one of which was for Album of the Year. Despite the countless accolades, and being widely regarded as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, pianists ever, what separates Herbie Hancock from others is his commitment to innovation, constantly imagining and reimagining sound, and welcoming with open arms younger artists.
Jazz, as an institution and set of ideals, has often struggled with change. Many of the banner men carrying the fictional banner of jazz, guard its borders with great angst, quickly deeming what “is” and “is not” jazz. For Herbie Hancock, such matters aren’t nearly as important as the music itself, and it shows in his body of work and the artists he’s collaborated with. Herbie Hancock has worked with everyone from Chic Corea and Ron Carter, to Flying Lotus and Kendrick Lamar. So, for Herbie Hancock’s latest tour, it only made sense that he collaborate with one of music’s most innovative and important voices, tenor saxophonist, Kamasi Washington.
On August 4th, Herbie Hancock and Kamasi Washington brought their co-headlining tour to North Philadelphia’s Metropolitan Opera House, as a part of a 10-city set of shows.
Opening the night, Kamasi Washington took the stage first, accompanied by his band, The West Coast Get Down, a collection of musicians Washington grew up with in Los Angeles. Known for his awe-inspiring compositions that encompass the range of gospel, jazz, and funk, as well as his commanding solos, Kamasi Washington’s set was a display of the artists keen virtuosic capabilities.
Throughout his set Washington took artistic liberties, rearranging tunes, adding new intros, and plenty of rhythmic changes. When playing Truth, from his EP Harmony of Difference, bassist Miles Mosley opened the song by using his bow and a delay effect to outline the chord progression. Washington stated that his song, Truth, is symbolic of the possibilities of synthesizing social and political differences, and includes 5-melodies played simultaneously played over a two chord progression - D Major 7 and a G Major 7.
When playing Fists of Fury, Washington rearranged the tune for a slower tempo, which gave the song a slight reggae groove accenting the up-beat, and drummer Tony Austin Jr. adding triplets played on the electronic drum pad, also giving it a Trap feel, all of which was a pleasant surprise for the song to ultimately crescendo into a commanding horn solo. During his set Washington also featured his Dad, Ricky Washington, who joined him on stage, playing both the soprano saxophone and the flute, and long-time friend and bandmate, trombonist Ryan Porter Jr., playing Porter’s original tune Oscalypso.
After an intermission period, Herbie Hancock came running out on stage! Herbie engaged in a quick bit of banter with the audience, eventually sitting behind his grand piano playing a rearranged version of his song, Cantaloupe Island, which featured alto-saxophonist and keyboardist, Terrace Martin, as he played the lead melody line.
As Cantaloupe Island came to an end, vocalist and guitarist Lionel Loueke played an improvised vocal and guitar solo. A native of Benin, Loueke’s style of playing melds together a multi-instrumental approach – the rhythmic cadences of a percussionist, the harmonic structure of a piano, and the experimental use of effects. Loueke’s style of playing is so unique even Herbie jokingly said to the audience, “it doesn’t even sound like a guitar.”
Herbie Hancock’s current band – Loueke (guitar), Martin (alto saxophone, keyboard, and vocoder), James Genus (bass), and Vinnie Colaiuta (drums) – is as sonically adventurous as the man himself, often matching his imaginative sound and approach to music. This imaginative approach could be seen when playing Sister Moon, a song that originally features Sting, but instead, Hancock used his vocoder to sing the lead vocal part, which was connected to his Korg, electric keyboard.
Later in the show, Hancock was also joined by vocalist and flutist, Elena Pindehughes, 24, playing tunes they co-wrote together, exhibiting Herbie’s constant evolution and reaching out to a younger generation of musicians.
Closing out the night, sporting his keytar and pacing the stage, Herbie played Actual Proof, then Chameleon as an encore, for which he was joined by Kamasi Washington. In the final moments of the show Herbie did a spirited call-and-response with Washington, Pindehughes, and drummer, Vinnie Colaiuta, throwing out different phrases and rhythmic patterns. And when the song ended, the musicians lined up to take a final bow, Herbie kept playing, continuing with a child-like zeal with his keytar.