Here’s some great news: Herbie Hancock, who turns a youthful 62 next month, is on the move again, embracing technology and creating some beautiful new music with it. His career has been a peripatetic zigzag — he’s gone out to the electronic fringe, reverted to his acoustic past and taken earthy shots at the charts. Some of these directions were revisited repeatedly, others never pursued again. But this “Future 2 Future” band is easily his most interesting since his short-lived 1986 “Jazz Africa” venture — and fortunately, its performance at the Knitting Factory Tuesday is being preserved for release on DVD.
In a loquacious mood, Hancock was deep into the future shock talk, going on about “new music for the new millennium,” “getting out of the comfort zone” and all that. But to longtime Herbie watchers, what he was really doing was finally picking up the threads of the brilliant, outer-space Sextet that he led from 1969-73 and weaving them ahead, fed by jolts of hip-hop and elements from nearly all of his periods.
What we heard was another, different Sextet, with Hancock on Korg and Roland synths and grand piano, DJ Disc spinning the turntable, a highly musical rhythm section (Terri Lyne Carrington, drums; Matthew Garrison, bass; Darrell Diaz, keyboards), and for some trumpet blasts from the past, Wallace Roney.
Like the earlier Sextet, the music seems to emerge in abstract stream-of-consciousness collages, with outbreaks of modern hip-hop but also excursions into moody electronics and even avant-garde prepared piano. The engineer in the balcony would occasionally pan the music around the room, although the surround-sound effect was not very noticeable upstairs.
Insisting upon using a nine-foot Steinway that made the small stage look awfully crowded, Hancock made no compromises, probing in his presently complex, nearly atonal manner. Yet this style fits a lot more comfortably with this electric band than it did at USC last fall with the “Directions in Music” quintet; he posed questions instead of drifting on his own cloud, and he interlocked tightly with the jostling, careening rhythms — especially the 6/8-meter groove of the opening number. This was Hancock’s best keyboard outing in a long time; the chemistry is right, and it allows him to grow.
Roney’s place in the scheme was pretty obvious. True, he veered abstractly away from his ongoing Miles Davis homage at first, but before long, he was intoning the Prince of Darkness circa the 1970s — and very effectively at that, like a ghost stalking Davis’ old sideman at the Steinway.
Most encouraging was the overwhelmingly young, intelligent-looking crowd; the electronica generation is finally picking up on Hancock’s pioneering electronic experiments from the past. They were warmed up by a smoothly segued set from the stupendously virtuosic DJ Cut Chemist.