First things first: Herbie Hancock's new record is unabashed pop. A "project in the truest sense of the word, Possibilities
was built by Hancock from the ground floor up by enlisting a group of singer/songwriterssome older, some younger; some established, some up and comingas the spirit moved him over a lengthy period of time. This isn't a case of Hancock and rhythm section bringing some singers to a session; instead, Hancock went from place to place, going where the music was, rather than bringing it to him. Hancock has found himself in a pop context many times before, with mid-'80s albums like Future Shock
, for example, featuring the award-winning song "Rockit." But Possibilities
has a sound that's as diverse as its guests, and with Hancock in a truly collaborative mode, it sounds unlike anything he has done before.
The tracks range from guitarist/vocalist John Mayer's funky "Stitched Up to the Latino "Safiatou, featuring guitarist Carlos Santana and singer Angélique Kidjo; Paul Simon's dark-hued "I Do It For Your Love ; and the uplifting and rootsy reworking of U2's "When Love Comes to Town, featuring guitarist/vocalist Jonny Lang and singer Joss Stone. One listen to the album's diverse mix and it's clear that, regardless of any individual track's focus, when Hancock takes a solo, he uses the language of jazz.
Still, that's not as incongruous as it might seem. Certainly some songs lean closer to a jazz aesthetic. The shuffle of Sting's "Sister Moon gets a groove-heavy reworking, but its rhythmic displacement is innovative in its own way. Irish singers Damien Rice and Lisa Hannigan deliver a spare and melancholy version of "Don't Explain, owing nothing and everything to Billie Holiday.
There are some surprises. For listeners who only know the name Christina Aguilera from her bad girl reputation or her battle of words with soon-to-be where-is-she-now singer Britney Spears, her version of Leon Russell's "A Song For You establishes a credibility from straight out of left field. With just the right combination of control and abandon and a remarkable interpretive sense, "Song for You may not be your favourite track on the album, but it will certainly be the one that turns your head the most.
In fact, the younger artists probably come off best, if only because they provide some of the album's biggest shocks, given either their existing sphere or their lack of an established reputation. Still, while many of the established artists feel more within their comfort zone, they deliver consistently strong performances. Annie Lennox's version of Paula Cole's AIDS-awareness ballad "Hush, Hush, Hush is remarkable for its subtle power, while ex-Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio's gentle and largely instrumental collaboration with Hancock, "Gelo Na Montanha, demonstrates a breadth that will surprise even the most committed Phishheads.
Through it all, Hancock's voice is clear but never overbearing. Sounding more like a member of the numerous bands rather than their leader and producer, he demonstrates yet again on Possibilities that his reach is truly without limits.