Jazz tonight, pop tomorrow.

The next installment of Herbie Hancock’s multifaceted recording career will be “Magic Windows,” an album due in September that will be, he said before last night’s show at Berklee Performance Center, a foray into “pop and rhythm and blues.”

Hancock – ever the chameleon-like jazz experimentalist – added it would even show some new wave influences with Talking Heads/David Bowie guitarist Adrian Belew featured on one track.

Would it in any way be a jazz album?

Hancock thought for a long moment. “Yeah,” he replied, “there are jazz solos, but it’s not really a jazz record.”

Last night jazz was the order of business – not fusion or funk (where Hancock made an impressive mark in 1973 with “Headhunters”), but acoustic jazz performed by Hancock on grand piano, Ron Carter on upright bass, Tony Williams on drums and Wynton Marsalis on trumpet.

With jazz being the order of business and with Miles Davis in town for his last night, one rumor had it that the two musicians – who played together in Davis’ quintet from 1963 to 1968 – might be getting together to jam last night at Berklee Performance Center. “I’d be surprised if he did,” Hancock said before the show. “He’s getting his own group together.”

In retrospect, one can see why Hancock would have been surprised. Last night’s performance – though kinetic at times and challenging throughout – often seemed too sterile, lacking the great sense of spontaneity and joyous release that one hopes to hear when stellar musicians pool talents.

And, to be blunt, one of the hindrances to enjoyment was that most basic problem: set length. Hancock’s nine-song set lasted only 75 minutes and, at $13.50 a ticket, that doesn’t rank high on the music-for-money-scale. “I seriously thought it was intermission,” said one disgruntled fan after the show. “A lot of people thought it was intermission.”

There were certainly moments of grandeur. Williams’ was particularly impressive; his versatility and dynamic range was astounding in “The Sorcerer” and “Nefertiti” where he imbued the fast, complex tempos with exquisite subtleties and loud cymbal splashes alike.

With trumpeter Marsalis carrying the lead (often working in an upper register) and Hancock adding undertones that intertwined and sometimes snaked upward, the band mostly charted a churning, relentlessly busy course. Although searching for the combination that would bring the music to peaks, they rarely moved into consummate overdrive. The best moments were actually the softer excursions – Hancock’s contemplative introduction to “Parade,” the piano/muted trumpet lines that worked a gentle magic in “I Fall In Love Too Easily” and the hypnotic rhythmic textures from Carter and Williams during “A Quick Sketch.”

Given the cast, the performance could hardly help from being impressive at certain junctures; it just didn’t smolder with the kind of hot blooded passion one gets from an Arthur Blythe a Sonny Rollins . . . or a Miles Davis.

by Jim Sullivan
Source: Boston Globe

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