Thursday, July 28, 2005

Herbie Hancock goes pop! - Christina Aguliera on Herbie's new record?

Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter have a kind of musical yin-yang thing going on. That's certainly not news for jazz fans, the two have been musical associates at the highest level since the 60's. Two highly individualistic players, masters of their instruments, and innovators in jazz, they often travel in elliptical orbits, ones that sometimes cross, but more often than not swing wildly to opposite sides of the musical spectrum.

Right now, Wayne is at a creative peak not seen since his work from the 60's - playing new and re-invented material from his own composition book, with an exciting young band, producing three excellent cds since 2001, a true late career renaissance. You could say there is no more profound improviser & composer in jazz than Shorter, and he is "on his game" as few musicians are today.

Meanwhile Herbie Hancock, still as talented and marvelous a pianist as ever, seems to be taking a more meandering path, one that leads to some nice solos, but not the great musical heights of his longtime associate. While Herbie has toured with Wayne within the last year, and made some fine music in those settings I'm sure, his latest project, to be released via the Starbucks owned "Hear Music" label, is likely to make this distinction all the more clear. While Wayne is creating brilliant music with amazing talents like Danilo Perez, Brian Blade and John Patitucci, (music that will likely one day be considered "classic" on par with his work from the 60's), Herbie is set to release a new record with talents such as Christina Aguliera, John Mayer, Annie Lennox, Jonny Lang, Sting, Paul Simon and Carlos Santana.

Now I'm not saying that this record won't be good. I have NO idea. I'm not saying all of those guest stars don't have talent. Rather I'm just noting that it seems that Wayne has taken the path less traveled, creating some truly significant and important music, meanwhile Herbie has decided that the best way to cement his reputation as a jazz icon is to record with Christina Aguilera? (I guess Brittney Spears was unavailable due to her pregnancy) Maybe Herbie doesn't care what jazz people think about this, doesn't care about cementing his legacy. I'm sure he'll make more money off this deal with Starbucks than Wayne will on his record. And to that I say good for him, this is America after all. But 30 years from now, we'll all be sitting around saying, "why didn't Herbie play with some real jazz musicians, instead of leaving us with this stuff." Kind of like critics and jazz fans today lament Wes Montgomery's A&M recordings, which though often containing one good jazz track, usually were little more than mood music for AM radio. And one last note, to bring this whole thing full circle - guess who played piano on those A&M and CTI dates for Wes? Yeah, Herbie. Some things never change.


Anonymous Bruce said...

Hey Joe - I pretty much agree with your point on this one. But, let's not forget that Herbie recovered from his misguided (IMHO) 2001 Future 2 Future album and tour (what an awful show that was - I just wanted him to sit down, stop the visionary thing, and play).

But that was followed by "New Directions" with Michael Brecker and Roy Hargrove in 2002 and a couple of much more satisfying tours.

I'll hold out hope.



2:19 PM  
Blogger Mwanji Ezana said...

Hancock has been pop since "Watermelon Man." After that, "Chameleon" and "Rockit," he's shown he can juggle pop & jazz. His (and Shorter's) legacy was "cemented" long ago, no reason to worry.

11:53 PM  
Anonymous bruce said...

Yes. And let's not forget 98's wonderful hybrid effort, "Gershwin's World", on which he collaborated with Wayne Shorter, Stevie Wonder, Joni Mitchell, and others.

You're right, mwanji, Herbie's doing fine.

10:53 AM  
Blogger Joe M said...

Oh yes, I'm not saying this is Herbie's first pop adventure. But in the time since Herbie released "Directions", Wayne has released three of the best albums of his career.

12:14 PM  
Blogger Mwanji Ezana said...

Didn't Hancock tour with Shorter, Dave Holland and Brian Blade? I recall hearing great things about that band. And, for the nostalgic, you can get "Trio Live in New York", a recording from 1993 released last year by the label Jazz Door. So Hancock is still playing with "real jazz musicians."

Hopefully, we'll have something to talk about in 30 years' time, whether the song with Christina is good or not (and, while it probably won't be, good old-fashioned r'n'b of the kind Hancock understands, with her on top, could be fun).

1:50 AM  
Blogger Brian said...

I saw Herbie play with his 2005 Headhunters, which includes John Mayer, at Bonnaroo earlier this summer. I am in now way a fan of Mayer's pop songs, but he can certainly rip it up in a jazz/funk setting, blew me away. As far as the others, if they present a good voice, how much damage cam occur? Sounds like he's looking to put out an album like Santana's Supernatural to revitalize his carreer. Really, if it turns more people on to jazz, where's the harm?

9:14 AM  

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