NEW YORK (Reuters) - Even after a career spanning five decades, jazz legend Herbie Hancock shows no signs of slowing down as he releases a new album of world music with a wide group of collaborators, from sitar player Anoushka Shankar to pop singer Pink.
“The Imagine Project,” which lands in record stores and on music websites this week, is the 12-time Grammy Award winner’s record of duets sung in seven different countries on five continents that aims to send a message of “peace through global collaboration,” Hancock said.
“I definitely wanted to make a global record,” said the 70-year-old pianist and composer, who hopes his new project will help bridge cultural gaps. “In order for it to be truly global it had to be recorded in different languages, so I tried to record in as many different countries...as I could.”
He also filmed the project for an accompanying documentary that shows him working with Pink, India.Arie, Jeff Beck, John Legend, Chaka Khan, The Chieftains, Wayne Shorter, Dave Matthews, and Anoushka Shankar.
While the concept and vision for the album were Hancock’s, he said he was not familiar with all the artists so he relied on his producer, Larry Klein, who knew the other performers’ songs and lyrics.
“I conceived the idea, did the research, played the music, but Larry was a huge help in forming a firm foundation even before we got into the music itself,” Hancock said.
The title track for “The Imagine Project” pairs pop rocker Pink with soul singer, Seal, and Pink also teams up with R&B singer John Legend to offer a haunting rendition of Peter Gabriel’s hit “Don’t Give Up.”
R&B artist India.Arie delivers an uplifting interpretation of John Lennon’s 1971 ballad, “Imagine” with a festive, Caribbean-like feel, and bluesy wife-husband duo, Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks, give a spirited, gritty performance of Joe Cocker’s “Space Captain.”
And James Morrison’s soulful vocals enhance Sam Cooke’s classic, “A Change Is Gonna Come.”
Hancock said the album is infused with his beliefs in Buddhism, which he has been practicing since 1974. He said the songs were about “living in the moment,” and while making the album around the globe presented significant hurdles, overcoming those challenges gave Hancock great joy.
“In Buddhism, they say if you try to do something for the greater good, no question you will run into obstacles. I knew this record was for the greater good because I ran into some major challenges,” Hancock said.
“But winning over obstacles is the key to happiness because hidden beneath an obstacle lies its value and it’s your responsibility to find what that is. That’s the key,” he added. “To look at it that way will move your life forward. That’s true freedom.”
One of the biggest challenges facing his beloved jazz music is that many of its composers and performers have aged, as has much of its audience. Yet, Hancock sees a wave of young musicians getting involved and that keeps him optimistic.
“They’re good and they want to play music. To me, that says jazz is very much alive and well,” he said.
He said that at this point in his life, he is working hard to share the secrets of the music he loves with younger players, and he credits much of his desire to give back to his former mentor, jazz great Miles Davis.
Hancock, a child prodigy who performed a Mozart concerto with The Chicago Symphony at age 11, credits Davis for paving the way for his own career longevity.
He said Davis never told younger musicians what to play, rather he made them search for their own musical style. In finding answers to their own questions, the performers learned.
“That’s what a master teacher does,” he said, adding. “I think he would like this project. I think a lot of people who played with Miles were deeply touched by the experience of working with him in a way that’s mystical and indescribable.”
Editing by Bob Tourtellotte