Hancock can ‘Imagine’ more jazz

Music legend still vibrant at 70

The music world is not unaware that Herbie Hancock turned a youthful 70 on April 12.

To mark the occasion, there will be a concert in New York’s Carnegie Hall on June 24, two days after the release of his latest album, “The Imagine Project,” and the Hollywood Bowl will host a star-packed concert Sept. 1 featuring many of the performers on the album. There will also be a tour in support of the disc, which was recorded on five continents.

“I absolutely, consciously try to do something completely different with every album,” Hancock tells Daily Variety. You only have to look at his vast catalog from five, going on six, decades to realize that the man isn’t kidding.

For starters, there are the seminal acoustic Blue Note sessions of the 1960s, the collaborations with Miles Davis’ 1965-68 quintet, the avant-garde electric jazz-rock Mwandishi sextet, the earthy jazz-funk of the Headhunters, the return to acoustic jazz with V.S.O.P., the disco and techno-rock experiments and freewheeling tributes to George Gershwin and Joni Mitchell. You would need a monthlong festival to touch upon all of the directions to which Hancock has turned, returned and often invented.

Through it all, Hancock’s willingness to push himself into new territory hasn’t diminished. “The Imagine Project” is at once reminiscent of and set quite apart from his last two pan-stylistic projects, “Possibilities” and 2007 Grammy album of the year winner “River: The Joni Letters.”

“But the initial impetus for recording ‘Imagine’ was very different from that of ‘Possibilities,'” Hancock says, “because I was thinking of the kind of peace through a globalization that we all would like to achieve — a kind of global future that we would want for our children and our children’s children.”

With John Lennon’s “Imagine” as a point of departure, “The Imagine Project” roams all over the globe in search of stylistic fusions, enlisting a roster that amounts to an international musicians’ convention trying somehow to get along.

For example, on the title track, Hancock, Seal and Pink invoke Lennon’s wistful tune in a straightforward, soulful introduction, and then the piece swings into a jiggling groove from the Congo’s Konono No. 1, with India.Arie, Fatoumata Diawara and Oumou Sangare now trading vocals, and Jeff Beck and Lionel Loueke flashing their guitars.

With all of these divergent styles, you wonder how Hancock could make all of the pieces fit together. Sometimes, it wasn’t easy.

Take the “Tamatant Tilay/Exodus” medley — the first number is the work of the Northern Malian group Tinariwen, the second a superimposed rendition of the Bob Marley liberation anthem by L.A.’s Los Lobos. Here, the melange didn’t quite come together at first.

So Hancock went to work in the studio, where he has always been at home with the latest gadgets. “There are little subtle changes that bring it closer without losing the natural flow of it,” he said. “That way we could make that kind of groove that, say, grew out of James Brown or Sly Stone without losing the character of that music. We did it with technology (Pro-Tools) in post-production. It’s very painstaking work, and the final judge is your ears and your heart, because if you’re feeling it, then it’s working.”

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