The ever-youthful Herbie Hancock – with two more Grammy awards for his pan-global “The Imagine Project” in his trophy cabinet – will soon be back on the road for a spring tour of Australia and New Zealand.
But first, he and his A-list colleagues – Wayne Shorter, Dave Holland and Vinnie Colaiuta – issued a challenge to a packed house at Walt Disney Concert Hall Saturday night, delivering nearly 100 minutes of uncompromisingly rigorous, abstract, acoustic jazz that often bordered upon contemporary classical music.
There was deep shared history on this stage, for Hancock, Shorter and Holland all played together on the 1968-69 Miles Davis recording sessions leading up to, and including, the breakthrough electric album, “In A Silent Way.” They have interacted since in many configurations over the decades, and drummer Colaiuta played a big part in welding the tangle of diverse world rhythms together on “The Imagine Project.”
As he did in his 70th birthday concert at Hollywood Bowl six months before, Hancock still relies upon themes he composed in his 20s for root material, while finding something different to say each time.
There is now a foreboding sense of enveloping darkness in the opening of “Maiden Voyage,” and he came up with yet another rhythmic variation on the funky “Cantaloupe Island,” a rolling toccata-like groove that eventually built into an orgasmic shout.
Yet there was new material from both Hancock and Shorter this time, delivered in sprawling servings sometimes approaching a half-hour in length, usually launched by ruminative Hancock solo excursions on the grand piano. The opening number – with its streaks of Debussy harmony and perhaps a flicker of stern-faced Copland – was practically a modern classical composition, with Colaiuta’s percussion and Holland’s bass providing color around Hancock’s piano like a compact orchestra. Shorter came up with another of his long, winding, quizzical lines on “The Visitor From Nowhere,” now fully warmed-up on soprano and tenor saxes (he sounded a little tentative early in the evening).
All four strove with all their might and mutual telepathy to push the post-bop jazz idiom forward, occasionally latching onto a groove, often pulling free of it while staying within a tonal context.
Moreover, it’s great to see Hancock, 70, and Shorter, 77, still challenging each other at a stage of life where the easy way out would have been to reprise the triumphs of their youth verbatim. It couldn’t have been easy for some in the audience, but they signed on to the journey and applauded wildly afterwards.