Only a month and a half after the star-studded “Tribute to Herbie Hancock” at the Kodak Theater — and just a week after receiving a major Grammy nom — the first Founders Concert for the Intl. Committee of Artists for Peace, brought the pianist again to the fore. It was an invaluable followup to the tribute show, filling in some of the gaps of the previous concert without repeating anything.
Performing with his colleague of some 43 years, Wayne Shorter, bassist Nathan East and drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, the quartet seemed to grope around trying to find their bearings with some sporadically rollicking funk and a surprising throwback to a tune by their early employer, Miles Davis’ “All Blues.”
Later on, the group found some heft and lift in Shorter’s “Footprints,” as Hancock launched some soaring, tremelo-laden choruses and saxophonist Shorter took it higher and wilder. The two old friends attempted only a single unaccompanied duet, with twittering electronics giving way to an inward acoustic dialogue.
The most potent energy of the concert was directed toward a rare revival of one of Hancock’s most cherished periods — the first of his great sextets from the end of the 1960s. Such 1968-vintage classics as “Toys” and the exquisite “Speak Like a Child” saw the original arrangements blown up vertically to fit the game UCLA Wind Orchestra.
With these gorgeous expanded voicings for full, diversely populated wind and brass sections, Hancock’s youthful debt to Gil Evans could be heard even more explicitly than on the old Blue Note sextet recordings, yet without compromising the originality of his gentle compositional vision. His cascading, splattering piano solos in “Speak Like a Child” showed how far he has evolved since.
After revisiting these masterworks, one couldn’t help but regret that for all his recent triumphs — the Grammy nomination of “River: The Joni Letters” for album of the year being the latest — Hancock has done very little writing lately, as he wistfully admitted. But he did trot out one new piece, a clearly heartfelt solo piano ballad written for the 80th birthday of the founder of ICAP, Daisaku Ikeda.
Shorter’s own wind-orchestra arrangements revealed an entirely different style — thicker, homogenous puffs of sound behind his twisting soprano sax lines in “Prometheus Unbound” and an unusually happy-go-lucky, medium-tempo number with a rock feeling. The concert signed off shortly thereafter on a weird note, with the quartet playing fatback funk for a quintet of dancers.