I would pay to see Herbie Hancock in any setting, with pretty much any instrumentation. Sunday night at the Lied Center of KU was no exception. It was a (hopefully not… fingers crossed) once in a lifetime chance to see the legendary pianist play. As someone I have grown up listening to, I was as much excited to literally see him in person as I was curious to see how he’d approach a solo piano performance.
Having said all that, the night had some great moments, but it also had some not-so-great moments. Although billed as “solo piano,” his setup on stage included a grand piano, several synthesizers, two iMacs to run the gadgetry, and the classic keytar. He started the set with an acoustic version of the Wayne Shorter standard, “Footprints,” using the full range of the piano, twisting and turning in and around the main melody and chord structure. Solo piano concerts are a double-edged sword. With “Footprints” and the second tune, “Dolphin Dance,” strictly acoustic piano can alienate audience members with all the twists and turns that stray from the original melody.
My favorite moment of the night took place toward the end of the acoustic piano edition of “Dolphin Dance,” when he fused themes developed on the grand with synthesized beats and bass lines. Loops from the synthesizer set up a virtual band for Hancock, allowing him to develop more ideas on piano.
Next in the set, Hancock played an orchestrated version of “Sonrisa,” backed by samples and recordings of orchestral instruments. I honestly can’t remember a whole lot of what he played because the electronics drowned the grand piano in the mixing.
His rendition of his song, “Cantaloupe Island,” was a definite low point. In the 90’s a bunch of lounge/electronic DJ’s started sampling this song, putting it behind different beats and drum-tracks. That’s cool. I actually dug some of those versions, but I didn’t go to see Herbie himself throw on a cheesy beat, play some vanilla ideas on acoustic piano, then get the old folks going with a forgettable keytar solo. I found myself both giggling and cringing behind my program.
Too harsh? Possibly. The audience gave him a standing ovation and cheered so much he played an encore. Shoot, I stood up and clapped too. For the encore he played the classic Headhunters funk tune, “Chameleon.” At that point I was afraid of what might follow, but he again surprised me, but this time in a good way. The dude got down, dirty, and just plain funky. This was the face-melting jazz keytar solo I had waited for. The nerds in the audience showed their excitement when he started getting more and more adventurous with his ideas.
A jazz musician whose opinion I greatly respect put it this way: Herbie Hancock could walk out and take a dump on stage and I’d still be glad I came! He’s a living legend.
by lucas homer
Tune in to KC Jazz Connection every Tuesdays nights from 10 p.m. to 11 p.m.