Herbie Hancock and friends "Imagine" global peace

Fri Jun 18, 2010 9:34pm EDT
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By Gary Graff

DETROIT (Billboard) - Herbie Hancock says his forthcoming album, "The Imagine Project" -- due out Tuesday (June 22) -- was "the hardest record I've ever made." And he's not talking about the music.

In fact, the legendary keyboardist tells Billboard.com that playing the 10 tracks "was easy compared to what it took to put (the album) together." The personnel for the project included a wealth of guest performers -- Dave Matthews, Seal, Pink, Jeff Beck, the Chieftains, Toumani Diabete, Wayne Shorter, Chaka Khan and others -- and recording sessions in several countries, among them the U.S., India, England, France, Ireland and Brazil.

"Every song on the record was like putting a while new album together," notes Hancock, who worked on the album with Larry Klein, co-producer of 2007's Grammy Award-winning "River/The Joni Letters." "It's that kind of experience. You had to completely retool for each song. Normally you don't have to do that.

"But I like the fact that everything on the record is different from everything else. It's in keeping with what's being practiced today by the general public, which is that people buy songs. In the past you had to buy whole albums; now you can buy song by song, so people buy what they want and (build) their own compilation in a way. But this is really like a compilation ... and I think it's a good thing."

With its global orientation, "The Imagine Project" includes a version of John Lennon's "Imagine" with Beck, Pink, Seal and India.Arie, as well as the Beatles' "Tomorrow Never Knows" with Matthews. Khan, Shorter and Anoushka Shankar teamed up with Indian musicians for the Klein original "The Song Goes On," while Diabete, the Chieftains, Lionel Loueke and Lisa Hannigan were part of Bob Dylan's "The Times They Are a-Changin'," and John Legend and Pink joined forces for Peter Gabriel's "Don't Give Up."

"It's a record that's basically about peace," explains Hancock, crediting his attorney with inspiring the concept. "To me the path toward peace is through global collaboration, so the heart of this record is the idea of making a global record or an international record, in multiple languages and in a variety of places."

The various sessions for "The Imagine Project" were filmed and will become the source material for a documentary and Web-based applications, possibly including a site where fans can remix tracks from the album. Hancock also plans to incorporate the footage into his concerts. He'll dedicate a portion of his shows this year to the album and will include the recording's musical guests via videos synchronized with the live band "so that it's possible to take people on a real journey into the music," he says.

Hancock's 70th birthday, which was April 12, will be celebrated during special concerts Thursday (June 24) at New York City's Carnegie Hall and September 1 at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles.

"I still feel like I'm 25 or 30," Hancock says with a laugh. "It's a great thing. People ask me, 'Have you thought about retiring?' I go, 'What? Why would I think about that?' The only retiring I want to do is when my hands get folded across my chest and they put me in a pine box. Hopefully that won't be any time soon."

(Editing by Sheri Linden at Reuters)