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Back Roads Beat

2007 North Sea Jazz Cruise Day 6: History, Hucksters And Hancock On The High Seas

By Published: July 16, 2007
His 4 p.m. solo concert in the panoramic Crow's Nest lounge at the top fore of the ship featured a progressive twist to traditional and modern songs common to accordion from a wide-ranging number of countries, supplemented constantly with a variety of percussive hand slaps, bird-like whistling chirps and other noises. It was novel enough to appeal to most people who normally don't like accordion and skilled enough to appeal to most people who do, leaving only the hardcore traditionalists and absolute naysayers behind.

He frequently mixed and improvised traditional concepts on-the-fly, sometimes splicing them from competing audience requests. He tackled a French waltz, something he said he's not familiar with, with a series of fluttering passages so quick they sounded like soundscape musings from a vibrato analogue synth, adding to the surrealism by using sour notes for transition. On another he tried to mesh Norwegian and Mexican polka concepts (roughly the equivalent of matchmaking Wagner with a mariachi), not quite getting a clear dialect in either.

At one point he got a request for a jazz tune.

"That's what I'm trying to do," he said, getting a laugh from the crowd.

My opinion is he's right, making his playing a beautiful illustration of the beauty and expanse of the genre. Most of the random chat from the audience afterward was about the range of techniques never heard before, but his work also went beyond gimmicks as, like Hancock or Corea, he stretched the classic boundaries of his instrument to fit rather than disguise his talents.

There's almost nothing about him I could find online, although a lukewarm AAJ concert review mentions his "reading words at random from a Finnish dictionary" as part of a Norwegian/Bulgarian quintet performance. He also has at least one album available.

Hancock was the featured performer of the evening, but his guest under different circumstance would be considered downright rude — he nearly stole the show.

African guitarist/vocalist Lionel Loueke's presence became obvious by the second song, the ubiquitous "Watermelon Man." Hancock said his band was playing a new arrangement based on a 1970s song Loueke wrote called "Seventeens" because of its time signature in that meter.

"If you're trying to dance to (his tune) you break your neck, so we're not playing that," Hancock said. "It has nothing to do with you (the audience). We can't play that. But I had to take a piece of that and stick it onto a piece that had nothing to do with that"

They took it at the classic tempo, but with a gait that indeed seemed to possess a sinister intent to trip something over. Straight and unedited from my notes: "All those kids playing this in school ensembles should be saturated in this as a lesson in how they could be doing the same song in different ways. different. Honestly, I'm having trouble recognizing it and I spent hours and hours with it on Aebersold's Hancock tape." Eventually they ventured into less radical territory, allowing the audience to absorb the classic theme in something approaching recognizable fashion.

Loueke's influence on even the most familiar of other songs was similar, tossing in quiet and sparse wordless vocals on the opening "Cantalope Island" that, even though heavy with choral processing, sounded remarkably authentic ethnically and meshed astoundingly well harmonically with Hancock's intense two- handed chord-pounding solo.

Miller, playing with band as he has with nearly all of the featured performers, showed a proficiency for acoustic-like straight-ahead thinking playing his electric on "Maiden Voyage," a welcome change of pace from his usual slap-happy attention grabbers. Again, the unedited notes: "He's showing some nice pitch and harmonic supplements on a quick and progressive solo, and probably the biggest compliment I can give him is I can't compare it with another straight-ahead player. As always, the sound and thoughts are clearly his."

Afterward, the focus returned to Loueke.

"You didn't know, Marcus, that Lionel is an amazing chef," Hancock said. "Every days there's a performance he makes an amazing soup for that performance."

The "exotic soup" for this evening came in the form of a song where Loueke started unaccompanied, vocalizing harmonies and clicking to a muted unplugged-like multi-part guitar cushion of simultaneous strums and clipped note plucks. The full band launched into a heavy grove after several minutes, turning into a bit of ethnic fusion more fun than most such efforts, but considerably less engaging than his solo work.

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