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Herbie Hancock Imagine Project: Philadelphia, August 13, 2010

Lewis J Whittington By
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Herbie Hancock / The Imagine Project
The Man Center
Philadelphia, USA
August 13, 2010

On a cool August night at the open air Mann Center, pianist Herbie Hancock reminisced about his '60s gigs in Philly with Miles Davis back in the day, but he was not looking to rest on any laurel. For two-and-a-half hours, Hanckock showed that he was very much in his prime.

Drummer Vinnie Colaiuta introduced the throbbing, concussive "Chameleon," as the the band filed in: guitarist Lionel Loueke (from Benin, a tiny country of West Africa), keyboardist Greg Phillinganes, and surprise guest, bassist Marcus Miller. Hancock finally bounded onstage looking 45 instead of 70, instantly connecting to the audience and drinking in the lusty shouts and applause.

The concert was built around material from his 46th studio album, The Imagine Project (Herbie Hancock Music, 2010), a global collective with a mission and message of multicultural understanding and exchange. Hancock recorded the tracks in several languages, with headliners from pop and rock including Seal, Dave Matthews, Pink and The Roots, to mention a few—and, perhaps more impressively, with non-mainstream musicians from all over the world.

In concert, Hancock's message of global harmony was laced around a tour de force of his trans-era jazz-funk palette, from his Headhunters days forward. Even though he handed off equal time to all of the other musicians and singers, it was Hancock—both showy and intimateas vibrant as ever and more commanding than many of his studio sessions.

Hancock introduced lead singer Christina Train on John Lennon's iconic "Imagine." The pianist's moody intro opened up a serene musical field, but Train sang it like a pop anthem, then it breaking into an Afro-rhythmic groove. Train proved more versatile and subtle on other number, particularly effective on Peter Gabriel's "Don't Give Up," where she was joined by Phillinganes with great vocal chemistry.

Everybody sang on a stirring, too-brief rendition of Bob Marley's "Exodus." Hancock evoked more social consciousness in music of the '60s with his medley of Bob Dylan's "The Times They Are a Changing'" and Sam Cooke's "A Change is Gonna Come," with Phillinganes' soaring vocals over the band's erratic tempo shifts.

Hancock returned to his older fusion material on electric piano, synthesizer and keytar with obvious joy, but demonstrated wise restraint, as it was the pianist unplugged that proved the most thrilling. After a group medley, Hancock dropped into an expressive and crystallized solo improv. He toured delicate Debussy-ean enclaves, commanded dense keyboard runs, and floated into a stratus with the exploratory courage of Thelonious Monk. It was no surprise that band members returned to interlock deftly on Monk's "'Round Midnight."

Hancock was coaxed back for an encore, and what better than his novelty '80s electro-funk hit "Rockit," which got everybody out of their seats.

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