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
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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)
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)
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)
Another sextet release, plus guests Gleason and Buck Clarke.
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)
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.
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.
A live record recorded in Japan. (DBW)
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.
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.
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).
An Evening With Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea In Concert (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
Review coming soon.
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.
Direct Step (1979)
This Japan-only release was cut live in the studio with the funk-fusion
band, plus guest keyboardist Webster Lewis. (DBW)
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)
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
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
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.
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.
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)
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
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.
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."
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.
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).
Don't stop it...