Intersecting with the pop world is nothing new to Herbie Hancock. Collaborating with legendary trumpeter Miles Davis on the early nexus of jazz and rock, In a Silent Way (Columbia, 1969), the keyboardist scored his own fusion hit with the funkified Head Hunters (Columbia) in 1973) and, a decade later, was on the cutting edge of techno/electronica with Future Shock (Columbia, 1983). More recently, Possibilities (Hear Music, 2005) enlisted artists including Christine Aguilera, Paul Simon and Sting for an unmistakable pop album that still retained a subtle jazz undercurrent in Hancock's own unmistakable pianism.
The Imagine Project builds on Possibilities by placing big names like Dave Matthews, Pink and Seal alongside a cream-of-the-crop collection of international artists who, while representing their individual musical cultures, find common ground in every corner. Brazil's Céu, Ireland's The Chieftains, Malian rockers Tinariwen and Bengali-born sitarist Anoushka Shankar are but a few of the performers Hancock and producer Larry Klein recorded around the world, on a collection of songsoften iconic and part of a collective zeitgeistthat share common themes of togetherness, peace and global responsibility.
The Imagine Project is a 21st century Love-In, complete with psychedelia (Dave Matthews singing The Beatles' "Tomorrow Never Knows") and some groovy, good-time peace and love (singer Susan Tedeschi and slide guitarist Derek Trucks Band, stretching out on "Space Captain," made famous by Joe Cocker). Peter Gabriel's gentle "Don't Give Up" retains its writer's world interests in a duet partnering pop megastar Pink and R&B singer John Legend, but with some tasty contributions from guitarist Jeff Beck.
Beck's characteristically human voice also drives the album opener. Another duet for Pinkthis time with British soul star SealJohn Lennon's ubiquitous "Imagine" blends Congolese DIYers Konono No1 with Hancock's expansive harmonization and Klein's glossy sheen to set the bar high, fusing true world music into an eminently accessible, crossover-bound mélange.
Like Possibilities, this is a pop record, with only the occasional hint of jazz. Bob Dylan's "The Times They Are a Changin'" is sung with subtlety and implication by Ireland's Lisa Hanniganwith traditional contextualization from fellow Irishmen The Chieftainsbut Klein's spare bass and Alex Acuña's percussion turn things more cross-cultural, as guitarist Lionel Loueke's jazz proclivities and Afro-centricities blend with Hancock during an extended trade-off section. Recorded in Mumbai, "The Song Goes On" teams Hancock and saxophonist Wayne Shorter with some stunning locals, including sitarist Anoushka Shankar; a fiery original sung by Chaka Khan that features some the disc's most spirited improvisational interplay.
Africa and Jamaica find common ground, with Chicano rockers Los Lobos in the middle, turning Tinariwen's groove-heavy "Tamatant Tilay" into a medley with reggae king Bob Marley's "Exodus," while James Morrison's version of Sam Cooke's prescient "A Change Is Gonna Come" is another highlight, as much for Hancock's astute injections as it is the British singer's impassioned delivery. Radio-friendly it may be, but The Imagine Project remains an album that couldn't have been made anyone but Hancock, an artist who intuitively understands where diverse musical spheresconsidered disparate by so manycan seamlessly intersect.
Imagine (with Seal, Pink, Konono No l, Jeff Beck, Oumou Sangare, India.Arie, Lionel Loueke and Marcus Miller); Don't Give Up (with Pink and John Legend); Tempo De Amor (with Céu); Space Captain (Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi); The Times, They Are A' Changin' (The Chieftains, Toumani Diabeté, Lionel Loueke and Lisa Hannigan); La Tierra (with Juanes); Tamatant Tilay / Exodus (Tinariwen and Los Lobos); Tomorrow Never Knows (with Dave Matthews); A Change is Gonna Come (with James Morrison); The Song Goes On (with Anoushka Shankar, Chaka Khan, Wayne Shorter).
Herbie Hancock: piano (1-10), keyboards (1-3, 8, 10), background vocals (6); Pink: vocal (1, 2); Seal: vocal (1); Alex Acuña: percussion (1, 2, 7); India.Arie: vocal (1); Vinnie Colaiuta: drums (1, 2, 4, 6, 9, 10), tambourine (4); Larry Goldings; Hammond B-3 (1, 2); Larry Klein: bass (1, 5, 7, 10), keyboards (3), background vocals (6); Augustin Makuntima Mawangu: lead Iiekemé (1); Menga Waku: bass Iikembé (1); Makonda Mbuta; rhythm Iikembé (1); Visi Vincent: drums (1); Mbiyavana Ndofusu: percussion (1); Lionel Loueke: guitar (1, 5); Marcus Miller: bass (1, 6); Oumou Sangare: vocal (1); Jeff Beck (1, 2); John Legend: vocal (2); George Whitty: sound design (2, 10), keyboards (2, 10); Céu: vocal (3); Rodrigo Campos: percussion (3); Lucas Martins: electric bass (3); Kofi Burbridge: Hammond B-3 and vocal (4); Oteil Burbridge: bass and vocal (4); Mike Mattison: vocal and vocal arrangements (4); Susan Tedeschi: vocal (4); Derek Trucks: guitar (4); Paddy Moloney: Uillean Pipes and tin whistle (5); Seán Keane: fiddle (5); Kevin Conneff: Bodhrán (5); Matt Molloy: flute (5); Toumani Diabate: kora (5); Manu Katché: drums (5); Rhani Knja: percussion (5); Richard Bravo: percussion (6); Juanes: vocal (6); Fernando Tobon: guitar (6); Pete Wallace: keyboards (6); Jessica Hancock: background vocals (6); Alan Mintz: background vocals (6); Maeia Ruvalcaba: background vocals (6); K'NAAN: vocal (7); David Hidalgo: vocal (7); Conrad Lozano: vocal (7); Louie Pérez: vocal (7); Said Ag Ayad: djembé and background vocals (7); Abdallah Ag Lamida: guitar and background vocals (7); Alhassane Ag Touhami: guitar and lead vocals (7);Abdallah Ag Alhousseyni: bass guitar and background vocals (7); Elega Ag Hamid: guitar and background vocals (7); Ibrahim Ag Alhabib: background vocals (7); Danny Barnes: bass, banjo and guitar (8); Matt Chamberlain: drums (8); Michael Chaves: guitar (8); Dave Matthews: vocal and guitar (8); Paulinho Da Costa: percussion (9); James Morrison: vocal (9); Dean Parks: guitar (9); Tal Wilkenfeld: bass (9); K.S. Chithra: vocal (10); Bhawai Shankar Kathak: pakhawaj (10); Chaka Khan: vocal (10); Sridhar Parthasarthy: mridangam (10); Anoushka Shankar: sitar (10); Wayne Shorter: soprano saxophone (10); Satyajit Talwakar: tablas (10).