Herbie Hancock Celebrates Peace
Better than…the Republican National Convention.
Let's get this out of the way early: I like peace. Obtaining peace and air conditioning are my two highest priorities these days and peace is winning by a mile. I also like pianist Herbie Hancock. He's a jazz treasure who happens to live in town and has been the creative chair for the Los Angeles Philharmonic for the last couple of years. Last night, however, Mr. Hancock and a crew of unbelievably gifted bandleaders took to the Hollywood Bowl stage for a night of confusion that left their message of peace a little muddled.
The evening opened with a brief set by harmonica player Gregoire Maret's quartet. I prefer my harmonica players to be sweating and swathed in denim, but Maret was dressed all in white and supported by a bank of synthesizers. His set veered on the edge of new age several times, but was luckily reeled in by drummer Clarence Penn's muscular, jarring thump. Maret closed with a bit of energy, bouncing on his toes in an unhinged display of intensity that balanced out the previous swirl.
After intermission the headliners approached the stage to near silence. In the shadows were an amazing cast of legends: saxophonist Wayne Shorter, electric bassist Marcus Miller, acoustic bassist Dave Holland, drummer Cindy Blackman Santana, tablist Zakir Hussain, guitarist Carlos Santana and a host of others. It was a Guitar Center's Noah's Ark assembled on stage, two of each kind of instrument.
The group opened with a meandering “Ode to Joy.” A feel of anticipatory dread rolled over the synthesized strings. The band eventually segued into the Mongo Santamaria jazz standard “Afro Blue.” It was immediately clear that this large group of jazz legends was going to be visibly led by the billed “special guest” Santana, as his chopped phrasing took the tune in a direction Wayne Shorter seemed unlikely to go. Several times during the tune Shorter wet his reed before stepping away from the microphone as the band continued to churn, looking for direction.
Wayne Shorter should be a headliner on the Hollywood Bowl stage. Herbie Hancock should be a headliner. Marcus Miller was already a headliner this summer and Dave Holland should have been a headliner as well. Instead, this group of leaders often found themselves unsure of themselves. If a solo voice didn't speak up, the unmistakable sound of Santana's guitar leapt from the speakers.
Throughout the set I had to look to the screens to figure out why the crowd was clapping. It wasn't in response to the music, but likely instead to the gestures of the behatted Santana who was attempting to find order among these giants.
It's unclear how this led to a message of peace but…
…there were a few moments of excitement scattered across the evening. Hancock strapped on a keytar for a little while, Holland took a brief but immense solo on the “Love Theme” from Spartacus, and drummer Cindy Blackman Santana, who mostly stayed out of the way through the set, offered a bombastic take on Milton Nascimento's “Ponta De Areia.”
The night before I had heard saxophonist Kamasi Washington's two drum/two bass/two keyboard ensemble at the Echo. That powerhouse group worked through three sweat-drenched sets of head-bobbing, toe-tapping intensity. There wasn't the level of ego or expectation attached to that band and they shined mightily into the early hours. If only Herbie's band could have tapped into that unbridled energy. Then we would be in a position to make some progress against those less peaceful.
Personal bias: I believe that Wayne Shorter is one of America's greatest living composers.
The crowd: Peaceful.
Random Notebook Dump: Persistent clouds of weed smoke made for a mellow crowd.