Montreux Jazz Festival 2010: Grand Geneva Finales
The Imagine Project: Beautifully Clear Vision, Even Better Music
Hancock re-imagined some chart topping songs for an all star album of guests, The Imagine Project (Herbie Hancock Music, 2010) with the stated mission of spreading the multi-national word and improving cultural tolerance. Now he's taking the show on the road with a great, polished but playful band. Don't imagine going. Get there.
Hancock is always reliably adventurous. Last year he came through withLang Lang on a symphonic piano duo tour, this year he's taming a whole new beast. The collection is probably Hancock's most mainstream in terms of familiar chart or playlist topping tunes, with material interpreted by a vast group of master improvisers. The touring unit could probably reproduce the exact notes and sound of their source material if they and the sound crew wished. Once in a while,briefly, they did.
The telepathically linked rhythm section of bassist Tal Wilkenfeld and drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, who are notching quite a list of gigs together including Jeff Beck's '09 ramble, are a worthy show in themselves. Rock solid Colaiuta has some of the very best kettle to foot rolls going, though tonight he was relatively reserved and kept in 1-2 backup gear during prominent ballads. He and Wilkenfeld have worked into a rowdy but relaxing routine that few rhythm sections in any genre can dream to match.
Perky Australian Wilkenfeld had a sizeable cheering section around her side of the stage that looked more like a Limp Bizkit mob. Between Wilkenfeld's string slapping skills and a punk-pixie babe factor, the army of hopefuls showed good taste as they moshed away, but with respect for the less lively crowd around them. It was nice to see Wilkenfeld get the pumped-up respect. One got the feeling that if Wilkenfeld ever formed a funk rock band with Esperanza Spalding they could do a profitable arena tour in these parts.
Vocalist Kristina Train was in the tough position of not only matching an ensemble at the highest echelon of excellence, but also singing a hit parade from all over the mainstream pop charts without pitching a high tech Vegas lounge effect.
This show came near the halfway point of a global tour, with Hancock's upcoming 70th birthday celebration on the horizon, but he was focused on the pleasurable task at hand. It seemed like something he planned on being involved with well into the future. Hancock looked relaxed and ready in a copper toned shirt that kept a robotic shine. There was a strong, fitting image of a visionary among masters. "We demand peace," said Hancock. "We have Asians, Africans, people from all around the world, but we're all the same family." That message came through as solid as the dazzling dexterity displayed by Hancock's current partners.
The project's title song, John Lennon' s "Imagine" was crafted with unimpeachable workmanship by all, but sometimes the extended phrases seemed like a bit too much unnecessary gloss. One of the song's strengths is the stark plea which shouldn't be over-ornamented. Still, the arrangement was entertaining and the passion was real. It seems that without a doubt Lennon would have appreciated the spirit, artistry and theme of the project.
Train's vocals on "Don't Give Up" were particularly effective in reflecting an introspective mood that provided a cooling canvas for the players to color, like a rainbow while the rain remains.
Loueke on guitar and Phillinganes on electric keys were more animated than during their earlier "Gumbo" set. They displayed more outgoing personas, and added extraordinary vocal backing. "Imagine" was after all, an extensively rehearsed and performed tour by now.
The band absolutely killed on another jammed up mash of "Watermellon Man." They played a full circle ying version for the yang of Hancock's "Gumbo" guest spot and allowed every player to stretch out and let the audience know they were in for something special, in case there was any doubt. A very pleased Hancock looked ready to dance as he stepped seamlessly from programming a Korg OASYS to the Faziou piano keys. Body language said Hancock was really engaged in the event.
Hancock repeated a rising modulated wave while Wilkenfeld and Colaiuta rumbled wildly. Exchanges between Hancock on a Roland AX synthesizer and Wilkenfeld while Colaiuta subtly thundered away in the background were price of admission moments. When Hancock subsequently strolled over to Loueke, who was now into higher pitched keyboard sounding effects, their duet was icing on the galactic cake.