"What some musicians forget, is that there's not an us and them — it's we," jazz legend Herbie Hancock
said from the stage last night. He was referring to the idea that, while it might seem like it was just he onstage at the Lied Center, it wasn't. He had the audience on his side. Hancock spoke before his performance began, discussing the pros and cons of a solo tour. The pros were that he could change meter and tempo, going off in strange directions, following his muse wherever it might take him. The con was — well, it was just ... Hancock.
Suffice it to say, Herbie Hancock was being overly modest. Aside from a brief technical snafu where some of his sampling equipment made unwanted, unexpected noises during "Dolphin Dance," his performance was flawless, even those sounds we might have considered experimental excursions had Hancock himself not drawn attention to them.
His opening song, Wayne Shorter's "Footprints," was a study in restraint and technique. Hancock joked afterward that he was easing us into it, but it wasn't because of any sort of simplistic dumbing-down on his part. Throughout the entirety of the song, the audience was dead silent, not wanting to miss any of the slight variations brought to the song.
I had both the privilege and excruciatingly tense job of shooting from the side of the stage during the almost 10-minute-long number. Because of segments of the song where it was pin-drop quiet, I was pretty much glued to the side of the stage for the entirety of the song. While sometimes shooting photos and reviewing a show at the same time can be a bit of a headache, this was a treat, to see a master musician that close — so close, I could see the reflection of his hands on the keys in the piano lid and hear his foot tapping out the rhythm on the stage.
While all of Hancock's songs received an intro, one wasn't needed for his wonderfully infectious and exuberant "Cantaloupe Island," which followed an orchestrally inflected "Sonrisa," which was a preview of an exploration of the piece he was going to do later in the year, along with Gershwin's "Rhapsody In Blue." Although the promise of Hancock trying his hand at such a piece sounds wonderful, no tease was given at the Lied. "Sonrisa," however, demonstrated Hancock's ability to work beyond the realm of being a "piano man" and move into the realm of classicists.
Lastly, Hancock took to the stage rocking a keytar, making him the only man to actually rock that particular instrument, as he did on the conclusion to "Cantaloupe." He brought it back out for the encore, a Funky Headhunters track with which I wasn't familiar. Unlike on "Cantaloupe," where the instrument brought forth all kinds of vocal samples (including some excellent James Brown grunts), this was strictly a funky affair that had the audience clapping along, until it unfortunately ended. Hancock took a final bow to a thunderous standing ovation from the packed Lied.