Wilson and Alroy's Record Reviews We listen to the lousy records so you won't have to.

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Herbie Hancock

Reviewed on this page:
Takin' Off - Inventions and Dimensions - Empyrean Isles - Maiden Voyage - Speak Like A Child - The Prisoner - Fat Albert Rotunda - Mwandishi - Crossings - Head Hunters - Thrust - Man-Child - Secrets - V.S.O.P. - The Herbie Hancock Trio - Feets Don't Fail Me Now - Quartet - Lite Me Up! - Future Shock - Sound System - Perfect Machine - Dis Is Da Drum - The New Standard - 1+1 - Gershwin's World - Future2Future - Possibilities - River: The Joni Letters

Herbie Hancock is certainly the best-known jazz pianist alive, and he may be the best, if there can be such a thing. He's been an innovator for over thirty years: In his early twenties he redefined the rhythm section as part of the last acoustic Miles Davis band. Since then, he's headed into soundtrack work, Eastern mysticism, fusion, and hip-hop - while continuing to perform (and occasionally record) the acoustic jazz that first made his reputation, and may end up as his most lasting contribution. He has loads of technical ability, but he's really remarkable for his extraordinary harmonic sense and rhythmic openness - both qualities are heard best on his more traditional work.

Besides his work with Miles, we've reviewed a bunch of jazz records where he appears as a sideman; most of them are on our jazz odds and ends page. And although he's mostly a jazz artist, he's guested on records by numerous pop artists, from Stevie Wonder to Joni Mitchell to Bernie Worrell to Quincy Jones. (DBW)

Takin' Off (1962)
A surprisingly conventional blues-based jazz record, including the classic composition "Watermelon Man." The tunes are effective ("Empty Pockets"), they just don't show the originality that's characterized most of his later work. Hints of his later ballads can be heard in the lovely "Alone And I," and the open vistas of Empyrean Isles can be glimpsed on "The Maze," but they're not quite ready for prime time. Dexter Gordon on sax and Freddie Hubbard on trumpet are solid as usual, but Hancock himself is rather reserved and tentative. A worthy enough debut, but it pales next to his later accomplishments. (DBW)

My Point Of View (1963)
This time, Hank Mobley's on sax and Don Byrd plays trumpet. (DBW)

Inventions and Dimensions (1963)
Five tunes, all by Hancock, played by an unusual quartet: Hancock, Paul Chambers on bass, and both Willie Bobo and Osvaldo "Chihuahua" Martínez on Latin percussion. This forshadows the preoccupation with rhythm that dominates his fusion work, but that's about all I can say for it. Nearly all the music was made up on the spot - the bossa nova-y "Mimosa" did have a chord structure preplanned - and instead of being an adventurous, spirited group exploration, it just sounds scattershot and disorganized. Hancock comes up with some startling runs ("A Jump Ahead"), but not many; the percussionists either stay way in the background or solo aimlessly; and Chambers seems lost, repeating simple figures endlessly ("Succotash"). "Triangle" is the closest thing to traditional jazz here, and gets the best performances all around - otherwise, there's nothing much of lasting value. (DBW)

Empyrean Isles (1964)
Now, this experiment with group improvisation paid off. Beautifully undercomposed and underarranged, a worthy successor to Kind Of Blue. A quartet, with Freddie Hubbard on cornet, and Tony Williams (drums) and Ron Carter (bass) from Davis' band. The musicians chase each other across the sparse sonic landscape, ending up with four long, haunting tunes. Of these, "Canteloupe Island" is one of Hancock's most famous recordings, recently sampled by hip-hop collage artists Us3. (DBW)

Maiden Voyage (1965)
Justly considered a landmark of 60s jazz, with almost every track a jazz standard: the title track, "Little One" (also recorded by Davis), "Eye Of The Hurricane" and "Dolphin Dance." The lesser-known "Survival of the Fittest" is just as good, with high drama, a playful Hancock solo and a furious drum solo courtesy of Williams. It's a concept album, actually, with each tune related to a different aspect of marine life. The personnel is the same as the last record, plus George Coleman on tenor sax; Hubbard plays his usual trumpet. (DBW)

Blow Up (1966)
The soundtrack to the Michelangelo Antonioni movie of the same name. It seems like an odd project, a large band with another pianist and Hancock on organ. (DBW)

Speak Like A Child (1968)
More or less a straightforward post-bop record, with calmer versions of tunes Hancock had originally cut with Davis ("Riot," "The Sorceror") and some lush, romantic suspended chord compositions (title track, "Goodbye To Childhood"). In addition to the rhythm section - Hancock, Carter and drummer Mickey Roker - three horns round out the sound: Thad Jones (flugelhorn), Peter Phillips (bass trombone) and Jerry Dodgion (alto flute). They're mostly used for shading, though, and don't get much solo space. One of the mellowest listening experiences in Hancock's oeuvre: it's pleasant and sophisticated without being particularly cathartic, except for Carter's boisterous "First Trip." (DBW)

The Prisoner (1969)
A far-reaching and enveloping work, recorded with a nine-piece band. Each track features Johnny Coles, Joe Henderson and Garnett Brown on horns, Buster Williams on bass and Albert "Tootie" Heath on drums, plus three of the following: Hubert Laws (flute), Jerome Richardson (flute & bass clarinet), Tony Stud (bass trombone), Romeo Penque (bass clarinet), Jack Jeffers (bass trombone). The band is focused and forceful, with Henderson contributing a particularly fine solo on the title song, and though all the tracks run at least seven minutes or longer, none are overlong. All the tunes is by Hancock, except for "Firewater," by Buster Williams, and they're solid band vehicles but not as distinctive or hummable as his best work. Reflecting the mood of the times (one of the moods, anyway), the titles are all concerned with black liberation: "I Have A Dream," "Promise Of The Sun," etc. (DBW)

Fat Albert Rotunda (1970)
Composed for the Bill Cosby show Fat Albert. It's a mix of James Brown-style funk, which sounds hastily composed and very dated ("Wiggle-Waggle," title track), and gorgeous impressionistic post-bop ("Jessica," "Tell Me A Bedtime Story"). Hancock leaves most of the soloing to others, anchoring most of the pieces with electric piano grooves. This album and the two following have been collected on a 2 CD set called The Complete Warner Bros Recordings. Mostly a sextet featuring Joe Henderson on sax and Buster Williams on bass, although two of the funk tracks have Eric Gale on lead guitar and a bunch of other people. (DBW)

Mwandishi (1971)
A live record consisting of three long compositions. The sidelong "Wandering Spirit Song" by Julian Priester is as aimless as you might think from the title; there are moments of beauty but not enough. The two Hancock compositions, though, are fantastic: "Ostinato (Suite For Julia)" grafts a down-home funky bass line onto a whimsical 15/4 rhythm, spurring the soloists to imaginative heights; "You'll Know When You Get There" is the kind of minimalist suspended-animation ballad Hancock pulled off so effortlessly in the 60s (notably on Empyrean Isles). The title is a Swahili name Hancock adopted during this period; the members of the Sextet each adopted a Swahili name: Mchezaji/Buster Williams (bass), Jabali/Billy Hart (drums), Mganga/Eddie Henderson (trumpet), Mwile/Benny Maupin (bass clarinet and alto flute), Pepo Mtoto/Julian Priester (trombone); Ndugu/Leon Chancler appears on percussion, and seems to be an honorary seventh member -- he went on to later success with the Dazz Band. (DBW)

Crossings (1972)
One side-long suite by Hancock ("Sleeping Giant") and two long tunes by Maupin ("Quasar," "Water Torture"). The Sextet remains the same, but Dr. Patrick Gleason is added on synthesizer, and he sounds like he's escaped from a 50's horror flick. It's acid music, basically - going for the same dreamy, spaced-out sound as Pink Floyd, albeit with vastly greater chops. Hancock's tune has a couple of swinging, funky sections, and the very end is unsettling and chilling, but by then you've sat through a lot of mind-numbing mood music. Maupin's "Quasar" is so atmospheric, meterless and chordless I honestly can't hear anything particularly musical about it. Music of its time, and interesting from a historical perspective - just don't expect the moving soloing and memorable compositions of Hancock's earlier work, or the earthy funk of his later work. (DBW)

Sextant (1973)
Another sextet release, plus guests Gleason and Buck Clarke. (DBW)

Head Hunters (1973)
Hancock's first true fusion release, which basically means taking the most accessible elements of the Sextet period and making more effective use of synthesizers. It works brilliantly on the extended "Chameleon," as drummer Harvey Mason sets up a novel, funky rhythm all the band members solo over; a new version of "Watermelon Man" is understated, without its signature piano riff. The second side's not quite as good, with the two ten-minute tunes veering toward the rambling pseudofunk Davis was releasing during this period (of course, if you love Davis' early 70s work you'll love this too). The band is Paul Jackson on electric bass, Harvey Mason on drums, Bill Summers on all kinds of percussion (including a beer bottle), and Bennie Maupin on a variety of woodwinds. This went platinum, and until the Kenny G era was the best-selling record in jazz history. (DBW)

Thrust (1974)
In the same mold as Head Hunters and similarly successful commercially, but a lot of the magic is missing. "Palm Grease" is built on a fine groove set up by Jackson and new drummer Mike Clark, but Hancock can't figure out anything interesting to say about it, and his endlessly swooping Arp lines get dull after a while. Bill Summers does add some interest with unusual percussion flavors, but it's not enough. "Actual Proof" is capably performed, but this time the groove is ordinary - still, it may be the most solidly enjoyable of the album's four tracks. "Butterfly" is a lovely ethereal ballad in the Hancock tradition, with inspired Maupin soloing, but here the fusion trappings get in the way: an endlessly repeating bass vamp and intrusive drums crush the gentle tune. The closing "Spank-A-Lee" is a tribute to the high-energy funk of Tower Of Power, with a smoking bass line from Jackson and free-spirited blowing from Maupin; still, it doesn't develop, and at just over seven minutes (the shortest track here) it's way too long. None of the tunes are flat-out misses, but none are unqualified successes either - if you're already into 70s fusion, give this a try, but it's far from the best the genre has to offer. (DBW)

Death Wish (1974)
Another film soundtrack; no musicians are listed but presumably the Headhunters are involved. The source of "Joanna's Theme." (DBW)


A Japan-only solo release featuring Herbie on piano and other keyboards. (DBW)

Man-Child (1975)
Pretty good jazz fusion: catchy hooks and funky riffs abound ("Hang Up Your Hangups"), and the tunes range from dreamy ("Bubbles") to driving ("Heartbeat"). Typically the bass, guitar and drums set up a groove, and Herbie plays impressionistic synth solos on top of it. The band includes Maupin, Mason, and Jackson, plus Louis Johnson on bass, Motown session man Melvin "Wah Wah Watson" Ragin and future Funkadelic Blackbird McKnight on guitar. Stevie Wonder guests on harmonica, but seems unable to figure out the loping groove "Steppin' In It," and doesn't perform up to his usual standard. (DBW)

Flood (1975)
A live record recorded in Japan. (DBW)

Secrets (1976)
Another big seller, exactly in the same mold as Man-Child but not nearly as good. There are lots of guitar/bass vamps ("Swamp Rat") and mellow stylings ("People Music"), but it's all obvious and uncatchy ("Doin' It," with some simplistic vocals). The remake of "Canteloupe Island" exemplifies the project: a classic jazz composition diluted into a mediocre, repetitive funk tune. And for all the synth tracks, there's almost nothing novel or interesting going on, just lots of whooshing and bleating... The rhythm section sets the table, but there's nothing to eat. Hancock does switch to piano long enough to deliver a brilliant solo on Bennie Maupin's otherwise lackluster "Sansho Shima." The band is largely unchanged, but Ray Parker Jr. is on guitar and James Levi's on drums. (DBW)

V.S.O.P. (1977)
This 2-record set documents one evening where Hancock performed with three different bands: first, with the Davis rhythm section plus Wayne Shorter and Freddie Hubbard; then, with the Sextet; and finally with his current fusion band. It's fun, but somehow there's an aura of nostalgia over everything that makes the performances seem canned... like they're presenting the tunes to you rather than performing them. Not to mention that some of the fusion material isn't worthy of presentation in the first place (an endless take on "Spider"). Don't confuse this with V.S.O.P. - The Quintet, a far better live album recorded the same year with the Davis rhythm section. (DBW)

The Herbie Hancock Trio (1977)
It seems like during this period, the acoustic jazz releases were only coming out in Japan. Hancock, Carter and Williams are in top form here, filling the air with more musical invention than you'd think possible from three people: nonstop busy playing without getting in each other's way, as engaging as it is inventive ("Watch It"). "Speak Like A Child" is much more aggressive than the original, and includes a striking, lengthy solo from the leader. There's also an exhilarating run through "Milestones." Most of the material is new, though, and even the less interesting compositions are enlivened by the boundless enthusiasm of the players ("Watcha Waitin' For," with a Carter solo that's simultaneously elegant and earthy). (DBW)

An Evening With Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea In Concert (1978)

Sunlight (1978)
Essentially Hancock's first venture into pop, with some disco tunes featuring Hancock's vocoder stylings (the painful "I Thought It Was You"). The Man-Child era band turns up on one track, and another features Jaco Pastorius, Williams, and Gleason. Review coming soon. (DBW)

Feets Don't Fail Me Now (1979)
Like Sunlight, this is pop/R&B with Hancock "singing" via vocoder. It's a deeply weird experience, as the synthesized voice croons like a lovesick robot ("You Bet Your Love"), and rarely pleasant, especially when the tunes are bathetic and dismal ("Trust Me" - I wish I hadn't). However, there are a couple of bright spots: if you're in the mood for playful light funk a la Patrice Rushen, the uptempo "Tell Everybody" and the sticky "Honey From The Jar" will do the trick. The basic band is Gadson, Summers, Eddie Watkins (bass) and Ray Obiedo (guitar); guests include Sheila E. and Parker on his "Ready Or Not," and "Knee Deep" features the Head Hunters plus Freddie Washington on bass. (DBW)

Direct Step (1979)
This Japan-only release was cut live in the studio with the funk-fusion band, plus guest keyboardist Webster Lewis. (DBW)

Monster (1980)
This didn't chart, for some reason. Lots of guests again, including Washington, Sheila E., Mouzon, and an array of electric guitarists: Carlos Santana, Parker, Wah Wah and Jimi Hendrix imitator Randy Hansen. (DBW)

Mr. Hands (1981)
The band this time around is most of the Headhunters, plus guests Carter and Williams, Jaco Pastorius, and Sheila E. (DBW)

Herbie Hancock Trio with Ron Carter + Tony Williams (1981)
Another Japan-only acoustic release. I may have to move to Japan at this rate. (DBW)

Magic Windows (1981)
A pop album with Parker, Sheila E., Mouzon, Wah Wah, and guests the Brothers Johnson, Michael Brecker, Sylvester and Adrian Belew. (DBW)

Quartet (1982)
The old Miles Davis rhythm section reunites, with then-wunderkind Wynton Marsalis on trumpet. The tunes are pretty familiar: two Monk compositions, some of Hancock's biggest hits ("The Sorceror," "Eye Of The Hurricane"), a standard they'd recorded with Davis back in 1963 ("I Fall In Love Too Easily"), and two each by Ron Carter and Tony Williams. But the performances are fresh and exhilarating, with the musicians taking risks all the way through each number. Although still a rookie, Marsalis holds his own, displaying the quiet confidence that later led him to make his famous pronouncements about what jazz is and isn't. Even on old chestnuts like "'Round Midnight," you continually hear something you didn't expect, and roughly 100% of the time, you like what you hear. (DBW)

Lite Me Up! (1982)
This is more of a Rod Temperton record than a Hancock record: Temperton wrote six of the eight tunes (two co-written with Hancock), and the production is pure unadulterated pop with no jazz influence at all. This is of no value if you aren't a fan of Quincy Jones-style pop R&B; if you are, it's passable, with abysmal lyrics and zero innovation but a few enjoyable tunes like "Get To The Good Part." Most of the vocals are by smooth crooner Wayne Anthony - Hancock uses vocoder on a few tracks, but his contribution is generally confined to brief, unilluminating solos ("The Bomb"). Produced by Hancock, except for the schlocky "Paradise" co-written and produced by Jay Graydon, and one track produced by Narada Michael Walden. There are a zillion session players, including Temperton/Jacksons/Jones associates like bassist Louis Johnson and guitarist David Williams; plus Toto, Abe Laboriel, etc. Patti Austin contributes some backing vocals, and Patrice Rushen adds vocoder. (DBW)

Future Shock (1983)
Hancock hooked up with high-concept producer/bassist Bill Laswell and keyboardist Mike Beinhorn, and they incorporated hip hop scratching and attitude into Hancock's electronic fusion sound. The result was the hugely influential "Rockit!" which was the first example of scratching to be played on many rap-phobic radio stations, and the unofficial anthem of the breakdancing craze. The single is the best thing about the record, though: it's padded out with lengthy explorations of a single riff and a small number of tonal effects ("TFS," "Earth Beat"), and the title track is a dull Curtis Mayfield cover with bizarre, incompetent-sounding lead guitar by Davis alumnus Pete Cosey. "Autodrive" is fun, though, with Herbie playing some terrific real piano. Guest appearances by reggae great Sly Dunbar and Latin percussion virtuoso Daniel Ponce. (DBW)

Sound System (1984)
After "Rockit" became a hit, Hancock knocked off another album with Laswell in exactly the same style ("Hardrock" is shockingly similar). Most of the same cast of characters is carried over from Future Shock, except that Beinhorn is gone: D.St. and Ponce, plus frequent Laswell collaborator Ayb Dieng, and Nicky Skopelitis returns to his usual guitar after being confined to vocals on Future Shock. There are a couple of nice surprises along the way (Foday Musa Suso adds prominent kora and kalimba to "Junku"; Hancock and Wayne Shorter go acoustic on "Karabali") but overall it's a formulaic, cynical offering for the whole family to avoid. (DBW)

'Round Midnight (1987)
Hancock ventured back into traditional jazz to supervise this film score, which earned him an Oscar. I haven't heard the soundtrack as such; I do remember the film's music was terrific. A mix of jazz standards and new tunes like "Chan's Song (Never Said)" cowritten with Stevie Wonder. (DBW)

Perfect Machine (1988)
Back to Laswell and fusion, adding old-school funk legends Bootsy Collins on bass and Sugarfoot on vocals. Given all the talent on hand, it's surprising how dull this album is. Laswell was in a slump during the late 80s, with one production after another featuring lots of open space, electronic drums playing standard 4/4 patterns, minimal funk bass, and a small range of keyboard effects. As often happens with Laswell, he's so busy imprinting his sound onto the record that the leader is shoved aside. You only get to hear Hancock shine on "Maiden Voyage/P. Bop," where he plays some tasty piano, and the album closing "Chemical Residue" which manages to be lush and industrial at the same time. The rest of the tracks (including the single "Vibe Alive") sound like they were made up in the studio with the meter running, and they repeat endlessly. (DBW)

Dis Is Da Drum (1994)
There are a few electronic fusion tracks here, but it's mostly Hancock and co-producer/percussionist Bill Summer's take on acid jazz. Most of the tracks have a base of thick, unvarying percussion, with acoustic piano and/or wind instruments blowing on top of it. It's certainly more entertaining than Perfect Machine, but for me what's appealing about acid jazz is the simplicity of the backing track, and all the layers of percussion here are just distracting. One exception is "Juju," where the percussion is the focus: it features live Afro-Cuban batá drumming, and a real live Afro-Cuban vocalist (Lazaro Galarraga). Another success is the fusion number "Butterly," with a nice, partly unaccompanied flute solo by Hubert Laws. Other guests include the return of Wah Wah Watson and Bennie Maupin from the Sextet, but they're only here in a supporting role. Some of the acid jazz tracks are solid compositions ("Call It '95"), but it just makes you wish he'd recorded them as plain jazz. Or even plain fusion. (DBW)

The New Standard (1996)
This time around Hancock recorded a traditional jazz album of recent pop tunes (just one original), including songs by Sade ("Stronger Than Pride"), Peter Gabriel ("Mercy Street"), Don Henley ("New York Minute") and others. Most of the tunes are quite simple harmonically, and the arrangements either dwell on the melody (the Beatles' "Norwegian Wood"), or vamp atmospherically (Nirvana's "All Apologies") - either way the tunes tend to go on much too long, with a distressing Adult Contemporary vibe. Hancock does come up with interesting interpretations of Stevie Wonder's "You've Got It Bad Girl," a midtempo song made into high-speed hard bop, and the Prince ballad "Thieves In The Temple," redone as bluesy funk. His athletic energy on piano is mostly absent, except on "Scarborough Fair" (a traditional tune credited to Simon & Garfunkel). The sidemen (Michael Brecker on sax, John Scofield on guitar, Dave Holland on bass, Jack DeJohnette and Don Alias on drums and percussion) are fine, although only Scofield gets much solo space. (DBW)

1+1 (Hancock/Shorter: 1997)
Duets with Hancock on acoustic piano and Wayne Shorter on soprano saxophone, and if you thought playing all that fusion had dulled Shorter's mind or fingers, you're wrong: he rains remarkable runs on almost every track, matching Hancock's continual invention step for step. Most of the tunes are sketches, leaving the players maximum room to maneuver rhythmically and harmonically - freedom on the scale of Kind Of Blue but without even a rhythm section to anchor them. Generally it works spectacularly well ("Visitor From Somewhere," "Meridianne"), and the few songs that are more fleshed out also benefit from the contrast ("Joanna's Theme"). Only a couple of the cuts are ordinary (Shorter's "Aung San Suu Kyi," which won a Grammy for best instrumental composition; Hancock's tossoff "Hale-Bopp, Hip-Hop"). Composing credits are split: three songs by each, three songs co-written, and one by Michiel Borstlap ("Memory Of Enchantment") Not to sound pretentious, but this isn't a beginner's jazz record: it's complex and abstract, with no vamps, no beat to tap your foot to, and long stretches with no stated melody. (DBW)

Gershwin's World (1998)
An homage to George Gershwin, and on one level this record is just a demonstration of Gershwin's range: torchy ballads ("The Man I Love," with a wizened, knowing vocal from Joni Mitchell), imaginative classic music ("Prelude in C# Minor"), pure lovely pop ("Embraceable You"). At times it's on the verge of becoming an academic exercise ("Lullaby"), but never topples over thanks to Hancock's deep feeling for the material. Generally, the instrumentation is small-combo jazz except on the classical pieces; he also adds African percussion on several tunes ("It Ain't Necessarily So"), where it sounds surprisingly natural. Instead of sticking with an all-Gershwin book, Hancock also tackles a few compositions which either inspired or were inspired by Gershwin: James Johnson's "Blueberry Rhyme" is an excuse for a fanciful piano duet with Chick Corea; Shorter wrings lovely mini-melodies out of Duke Ellington's "Cottontail." The album's most magical moment is a version of W.C. Handy's primordial "St. Louis Blues" with a wrenching vocal from Stevie Wonder that's blues, jazz and R&B all in one. Despite the album's remarkable consistency and endless variety, it doesn't really take the listener into Gershwin's world, because the interpretations are so modern (the brilliant, space-filled interplay on "Here Come Da Honey Man"). What we have here is a bunch of great music that doesn't cohere into a great album. Featuring Teri Lyne Carrington (drums), Ira Coleman and Bakithi Kumalo (bass), Cyro Baptista (percussion), Kenny Garrett and James Carter (sax), and Eddie Henderson (trumpet); produced by Hancock and Robert Sadin. (DBW)

Future2Future (2001)
The kind of music you'd hear in a power yoga class where the teacher is trying too hard to impress you... trip-hop with an ego. This reunion with Bill Laswell is a stew of Laswell's bass vamps, repetitive drumming (both live and programmed) and quasi-mystical babbling, both spoken (Dana Bryant on "Tony Williams") and sung (an unusually passive Chaka Khan on "The Essence," which she co-wrote; Imani Uzuri on "Be Still"). Hancock mostly confines himself to atmospheric synth washes and occasional noodling, leaving so much open space the disc often has a New Age feel, though a couple of tunes are so singleminded and simpleminded they manage to be actively annoying ("Alphabeta"). Charnett Moffett and Shorter don't bring much to the table either - Moffett's bass is mostly inaudible (aside from the concluding "Virtual Hornets"), and Shorter's legato runs are just window dressing. Jack De Johnette does contribute energetic trap work to "This Is Rob Swift," mostly a showcase for Swift's turntable prowess, and Karsh Kale's drum programming on "Ionosphere" is unusual and rousing. (DBW)

Possibilities (2005)
The latest attempt to recreate Santana's magic "Old Legend Meets Young Charttoppers" formula, with a ton of guests singing while Hancock's somewhere in the background. There aren't many surprises: Sting sounds like Sting covering a Sting tune ("Sister Moon"), Paul Simon sounds like Paul Simon covering a Paul Simon tune, Joss Stone sounds like Janis Joplin covering a U2 tune ("When Love Comes To Town," with former blues prodigy Jonny Lang). Santana himself drops by on "Safiatou," also with Angelique Kidjo. Hancock adds acoustic piano solos to all these songs, but they sound pasted on, not integral to the performance, except for his light, intriguing backing of Christina Aguilera's characteristically oversung "A Song For You." The high point is John Mayer's sly, clever pop-blues "Stitched Up"; the low point may be "Gelo Na Montanha - 1st Movement," a highly edited improvisation with Trey Anastasio that's as pretentious as it sounds. Too many incidental guests to list; Wonder contributes harmonica to Raul Midón's solemn reading of "I Just Called To Say I Love You." (DBW)

River: The Joni Letters (2007)
A tribute to Joni Mitchell, and the second album in a row dedicated to the questionable proposition that people buy Herbie Hancock records because they want to listen to pop singers: for example, Norah Jones bringing far too much faux boho bravado to "Court And Spark." Unlike on Possibilities, though, Hancock exerts himself enough to reharmonize and reconstruct the tunes, in some cases going so far they become unrecognizeable ("Both Sides Now"). This is welcome on the more commonly covered songs ("River," sung by Corinne Bailey Rae), but is rather too much of a good thing on the numbers that were overlooked in the first place ("Sweet Bird"). The singers rarely rise to the occasion - Tina Turner badly oversings "Edith And The Kingpin"; Leonard Cohen blandly declaims "The Jungle Line"; Mitchell sucks the life out of her own "The Tea Leaf Prophecy" - so there's not much to listen for once you've puzzled out what the heck Hancock is actually playing. Produced with Larry Klein (Mitchell's ex-husband); other guests include Shorter (his own "Nefertiti," one of two songs that isn't from Mitchell). There are also a few bonus tracks you may or may not get depending on where you buy the disc ("Harlem In Havana"). A surprise Album of the Year Grammy winner. (DBW)

The Imagine Project (2010)
Another repeat of the "cavalcade of stars" routine, this time with international acts like K.S. Chithra, Tinariwen, Oumou Sangaré, Céu and Juanes in addition to more familiar names (Dave Matthews, Pink, Jeff Beck). (DBW)

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