by Piotr Michalowski
Among the jazz pianists who came to prominence during the 1960s, perhaps none has had the staying power of Herbie Hancock. His early stint with Miles Davis allowed the young pianist to develop his unique style and exposed him to the use of electronics and to the fusion of jazz with various popular musical styles. After he left the group, Hancock developed his own approaches to the blending of jazz with more popular elements. His Headhunters became one of the most successful fusion groups, selling large numbers of records and gaining wide popularity. Hancock had studied electrical engineering while at college, and his early training turned out to be quite useful as he delved more and more into the use of electronic instruments. Moreover, he expanded his horizons to the world of the movies, serving as musical director for a number of films, including the critically successful 'Round Midnight, starring saxophone giant Dexter Gordon, who had played on Hancock's 1963 debut record, Taking Off.
In the years since, Hancock has gone back and forth between sophisticated hard-rocking electronic dance music and more traditional acoustic jazz. Unlike many who have traveled this route, he obviously feels at home in both worlds, and even though he has been well rewarded for his more popular productions, he has never abandoned his love of purer jazz forms. Some of his acoustic ventures have a distinct whiff of nostalgia about them, especially the various reenactments of the Davis quintet, but Hancock clearly believes that these occasions should offer opportunities for more than simple reproductions of the past. He has also moved in newer directions, exemplified by his duet recording and tour with his old Davis teammate, saxophonist Wayne Shorter.
This fall Hancock is touring with a new quartet that includes Gary Thomas on sax and flute, Terri Lynne Carrington on drums, and Scott Colley on bassaccomplished musicians who, like their leader, are comfortable in many styles. Hancock once had a big
hit with "Chameleon," a title that well describes his musical attitudes attitudes that make it difficult to predict what we might hear when his quartet comes to the Michigan Theater on Wednesday, November 6. Hancock and Thomas both appear on Carrington's excellent recent release Jazz Is a Spirit, which harkens back to the kind of music Hancock and Wayne Shorter explored in the 1960s, and this may provide some indication that this quartet will work in a similar mode. Musical surprises are hard to come by these days, and it will be interesting to find out what this elusive artist has in store for us.
[Originally published in November, 2002.]