By David Coulson. BOONE, NC — It was like a doctoral class on the past 60 years of jazz history Wednesday evening before a packed house at Appalachian State’s Schaefer Center. Herbie Hancock and his band unleashed a barrage of music that hinted at this All-American genre’s past and present — and provided insights into its future.
COVER IMAGE: Herbie Hancock at the keyboard in the Schaefer Center. Photographic images by David Coulson, processed and edited by David Rogers for Blowing Rock News
Even at the ripe, old performing age of 78, Hancock showed he is still not content to stand still. As one of jazz’s most treasured innovators, this keyboard icon isn’t ready to play it safe and rest on his laurels, even as he reaches the end of his sixth decade as a major performer.
Far too many performers — particularly in the pop and rock realms — eventually decide to coast to their musical finish line. Hancock, though, has never been a musician satisfied by his multitude of accomplishments, even though he has constantly broken new ground with his immense playing chops, his composing ability, and his embrace of the latest technology.
One of the keys to his still-youthful perspective is surrounding himself with talented, younger musicians — a purposeful decision that keeps Hancock on his technical toes and seamlessly pushes the music to new heights. Of course, when you have the reputation as one of the all-time greats, it is easy to attract jazz’s best and brightest.
The latest configuration of Hancock’s band are not only competent sidemen, they are rising stars in their own right.
Guitarist Lionel Loueke quickly wowed the capacity crowd with his balance between cutting-edge technology, soulful solos, and tone color. Loueke’s creative use of guitar synthesizer and his pleasant vocal abilities added rich textures to Hancock’s immense palette on both classic and new material.
Terrace Martin is a multi-instrumentalist who not only excels on saxophone, keyboards and vocoder, but his well-trained, listening ear as one of music’s best young producers, made him a perfect ensemble player in this talented group.
A particular highlight for Martin was his vocoder harmonies with Hancock in the middle of the performance as he complemented one of the artists who popularized the device in the 1970s.
Hancock took an extended break during the over-two-hour performance to emphasize the abilities of his band, rather than be content with brief, tired introductions or feeding his own ego.
The keyboard giant, with a gentle, yet sharp sense of humor, noted that bassist James Genus had a regular, prominent gig as the rhythm foundation to the Saturday Night Live band.
“James won’t be making Saturday Night Live this weekend,” Hancock chortled with pride.
Genus was solid throughout and tasteful when he had the chance to solo as he teamed with drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, who Hancock lauded as being at the top of the musical food chain. Nothing Colaiuta did on this magical evening did anything to diminish that reputation.
With such a solid contingent behind him, Hancock was free to continue exploring the depths of improvisation with the greatest of flair and skill. And the immensely appreciative audience spurred them all to one of the most memorable nights of music that the Schaefer Center has witnessed in many years.
One of the hardest things that a band leader like Hancock has to do is construct a setlist that will balance between recognizable standards and promoting new music. While some in the crowd might have hoped to hear more of the hits from his early, solo piano days, his time with the most prominent version of the Miles Davis Quintet, or the groundbreaking Headhunters, no one should have left disappointed with what was played.
Hancock skillfully worked in quotes of some of the old stuff, dug deep into the Headhunters catalog and kept things interesting with the newer, cutting-edge material.
The energized crowd roared its approval throughout in a way that almost seemed to startle Hancock from the beginning.
And the band saved it best for last after an extended standing ovation brought them back for a long encore. With Hancock strapping on his keytar, freeing him to wander out to the front of the stage with his band, they broke into a spellbinding reprise of Chameleon, complete with this legendary keyboardist ripping through some tantalizing synth solos.
As the concert came to a reluctant conclusion for both crowd and artists alike, Hancock took up residence at the front of the stage and moved from one side of the hall to the other, shaking hands and speaking briefly to as many fans as he could meet.
When one admirer grasped his strong and enormous hand and told Hancock that he had been one of the artists most inspiring the fan to take up keyboards, Hancock broke into a thoughtful and contented smile.
It was a perfect reminder for Hancock as to how he has influenced generations of music lovers.
Herbie Hancock’s Schaefer Center Set List
- Dark Lightening/Chameleon
- Actual Proof
- Come Running To Me
- Secret Source
- Cantaloupe Island