Herbie Hancock at Sava Centar in Belgrade

Nenad Georgievski By

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Herbie Hancock
Sava Centar
Belgrade, Serbia
November 27, 2014

Pianist Herbie Hancock's name alone might sell tickets as a symbol of integrity and innovation. His curious and ever innovative spirit for pushing boundaries and new technology has not only pushed jazz forward, but contemporary music as well. And it was the sounds of the rich pool of music that greeted the crowd gathered at the prestigious Sava Centar hall to see Herbie Hancock return to the city of Belgrade after 22 years, on the final leg of a short European tour. Announced as a greatest hits tour, he gave a sort of retrospective concert that managed to reiterate his continuing relevance. The band members took the stage one by one and with his colorful shirt Hancock cut a slight dapper figure as he approached the piano/keyboards. Accompanying Hancock were Lionel Loueke on guitar and vocal, James Genus on bass and Vinnie Colaiuta on drums—long-time collaborators with an especially developed understanding of the leader's style-melding, genre crossing and risk taking approach when playing his own music.

The show began with "Actual Proof" from Thrust (Columbia, 1974) and the quartet embarked on a long and radical interpretation of this tune. Actually, that was the common denominator to all of the tunes on his set-list for this evening—radical and lengthy rearrangements of Hancock's repertoire. The tune's first minutes were hindered by an inadequate sound as the band sounded distant and murky. Sava Centar is a huge arena with a lot of space between the stage and the audience and for the first minutes of this lengthy tune, the sound was inadequately distant without the full impact of its many climaxes this composition actually has. But the sound kept constantly improving as the band went on with Colaiuta enthusiastically propelling the band to many climaxes with his fusion style drumming. And Hancock was in great mood all through out the evening and had a great rapport with the audience. Certainly as a great MC he began communicating with the people in attendance by sharing funny reminiscences of his first time in Belgrade (in 1972) and finding people that have actually attended that gig.

What followed was a really radical reinterpretation of "Watermelon Man" that sounded more like a Head Hunters-era interpretation with outdated 70's/80's synthesizer sounds of his keyboards. During the soloings he even took out his white keytar stirring applause from the audience and doing a give and take duel with bassist Gang. Hancock's live rig resembled like a small sound laboratory with his laptop, keyboard and the piano, but for the first part of the show it was more like digging out vintage keyboard sounds mixed with the piano. He would throw all kinds of synthetic chords and funky robotic voices on his vocoder. An even more radical interpretation was "Cantaloupe Island" with its lengthy ambient symphonic intro produced with various sounds, some of it much in the manner of keyboardist Jean Michelle Jarre, which soon turned into the recognizable sounds of "Cantaloupe Island." The band even went on lengthy improvisations only to return to the safe harbor of "Cantaloupe Island." Because the repertoire was so familiar, one couldn't help but think of the original arrangements, and then of how Hancock and company were boldly remodeling them.

All throughout Hancock shared the spotlight with his band and he allowed his band-mates to showcase their exquisite musical skills as well as compositional. Loueke's guitar solo spot was a brilliant addition to the show. He used his guitar tapping style and pedals to architect an impressive piece of music that reached a climax with the addition of African vocal chants that he multiplied on the spot.

The encore actually comprised the second part of the show with "Rock It" and "Chameleon." Those were lengthy 20 minutes interpretations each, and from that moment on the show was more upbeat and more "Future2Future like." More fluid and more contemporary sounding like, the band literally exploded with its lengthy and groovy performances thus turning these two tunes into funky jams full of twists and surprises. In his hands the keytar became a modern vehicle for producing all kinds of sounds. It was used as a sampler -producing scratches, various found sounds and finally he used it as a keyboard. These two powerful, muscular and funky struts flexed the perfect combination of muscle and speed, and these were the genuine highlights of the night.

The world of Herbie Hancock is a colorful one, comprising different eras. This ever-searching musician is still having a great time playing live and experimenting. The concert in Belgrade was basically a show where he shuffled the sounds from different eras in one tune, sometimes with mixed results, and showcased the power of his touring band. It was funky.

Photo Credit: Nemanja Djordjevic
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