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Herbie Hancock at the Gaillard Center Music Hall

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Where many old veterans are willing to get by on crowd pleasing hits, Hancock is still an adventurer.
Herbie Hancock Quartet
Galliard Music Hall
Charleston, SC
October 18, 2017

Keyboardist and jazz legend, Herbie Hancock sat down at his synthesizer and immediately filled the Galliard Center Music Hall in Charleston, South Carolina on October 18th with a carpet of electronic sound, setting the stage for a panoply of ever shifting chords, rhythms, melodies and bombastics for the eagerly awaiting audience.

If one were to assume that the traditional line up of sax and rhythm section the concert would at all hearken back to the days of yesteryear and Blue Note record bliss, they would be very much mistaken.

The hall itself was designed to make audible to the audience in crystal clarity almost every iota of sound from the stage. While the acoustics work miraculously well with a string quartet or a flute/piano duet, it can become problematic for the rather rude intrusions of electronic instruments, and pounding percussion. It was obvious from the first chorus, that Hancock's group description came closer to the latter.

Hancock's colleagues were a generation or two younger than he, and were obviously ready to rumble. Saxophonist Terrace Martin, who also added keyboard effects, played with plenty of technique and a strong biting sound. It was not hard to be impressed by his musicianship, but there seemed to be a sameness in his solos, playing fast runs louder and louder -presumably to convey intensity. But it was hard to detect any form or game plan in his solo forays.

Bassist James Genus, who can frequently be seen and heard on Saturday Night Live, appeared more than competent, but the bass suffered more from the acoustics than any other instrument, and there was almost no definition to his lines when in a supporting role. He did have a couple solos that were showy, although not particularly notable.

Most impressive was drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, whose empathy with the master and a sure feel for dynamics, brought to mind those wonderful interchanges that used to take place between Hancock and drummer Tony Williams back in the Miles Davis days. You could see, hear and feel as Hancock and Colaiuta reacted to each other, almost as if they were two hands on the same body.

Hancock, who looks and sounds much younger than his 77 years, still shows remarkable dexterity on the acoustic piano, which despite the dynamic level of his side men, was still able to peer over the top. The quick runs and the darting and piercing chords that characterized him from the beginning of his career were, on occasion, in full bloom. But he by no means neglected his plugged in accessories. He used his synthesizers to fill in behind Martin as well as to mingle with the Martin's keyboard. In addition, he has managed to incorporate his voice as both a melodic and rhythmic instrument by singing into a device that distorted the sound, but maintained the pitch of Hancock's voice. It was not exactly singing and not exactly playing, but something in between.

It was a bit of a relief from the sometimes cacophonous assault, when Hancock introduced the more sinuous and appealing rhythms of his old hit "Cantaloupe Island" to crowd approval. He played it with renewed enthusiasm, keeping it sounding fresh although he must have exhausted every possibility in that melody years ago. While more frantic than the original, you could still hear many references to earlier times looming overhead.

While a handful of people walked out early, with some dazed and not particularly happy looks on their faces, most of the audience stayed to the bitter end and were rewarded by one final appearance and the performance of another big hit -"Chameleon." Hancock stood up in front of the stage playing a hand held keyboard, and looked the part of a rock guitarist, moving with the rhythm of the music and accentuating lines with high pitch screams.

The concert was more memorable for being able to view a great jazz master, who has maintained his physical and musical capacity, and who is still willing to claw against the edges of conventions. Where many old veterans are willing to get by on crowd pleasing hits, Hancock is still an adventurer. While there are many pitfalls to doing that, he is showing that he is not ready to be consigned to history. He may have earned all the respect anyone would want, but he seems compelled to add even more to his legacy. To that, a tip of the hat.

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