NEW YORK (Billboard) - The evening might have been titled “Herbie Hancock: Seven Decades — The Birthday Celebration,” but the guest of honor clearly had no interest in hogging the spotlight.
This terrific concert, presented Thursday night at Carnegie Hall as part of the CareFusion Jazz Festival New York, featured a stellar lineup of some of the greatest jazz musicians of the last half century as well as plenty of other notables. It was a fitting tribute to the renowned jazz pianist and composer, still riding high from his 2008 Grammy for album of the year for “River: The Joni Letters.”
Hosted by ubiquitous jazz fan Bill Cosby, the evening was divided into two parts: The first featured Hancock — who belied his age by practically bounding onto the stage — performing with an ensemble that alternately included Terence Blanchard and Wallace Roney (trumpet), Ron Carter and Dave Holland (bass), Wayne Shorter and Joe Lovano (sax), Lionel Loueke (guitar) and Jack DeJohnette (drums).
The second half featured selections from the just-released globalization-themed “Imagine Project,” for which Hancock collaborated with a dozen guest artists from throughout the world, some of whom were on hand to reprise their performances.
It was hard to avoid the feeling that the ghost of Miles Davis was hovering over the first set, with Hancock, Carter and Shorter all veterans of his late ‘60s quintet. That legendary group’s free-jazz style was very much on display in the superb renditions of such classics as Shorter’s “Footprints,” Carter’s “81” and “My Funny Valentine,” with ample time given to extended solos and sizzling exchanges, particularly among the dueling horn players. Providing superb support was DeJohnette, whose fierce but controlled rhythmic explosions on “81” were particularly mesmerizing. The set culminated with Hancock’s “Maiden Voyage,” featuring an effortless segue to the funky “Cantaloupe Island.”
The second set featured a different lineup — with the exception of Loueke — that included Vinnie Colaiuta (drums), Greg Phillinganes (keyboards) and Tal Wilkenfield (bass). After a brief nod to “River” with Kristina Train providing a jazzy vocal on “Court and Spark,” it was devoted to selections from the new album. Indie.Arie gave a funky vibe to the title track by John Lennon; vocalist Train demonstrated her versatility with Peter Gabriel’s “Don’t Give Up” and the Spanish-language “La Tierra,” and guitarist Derek Trucks and singer Susan Tedeschi brought bluesy sizzle to “Space Captain.”
All of the instrumentalists had a chance to show off their vocal chops. Phillinganes garnered cheers with his soulful singing on “A Change Is Gonna Come,” as did Loueke with “Exodus” and Wilkenfeld on “The Times They Are a’ Changin’.” His piano situated at the rear of the stage but his presence ever felt through his gorgeous harmonic stylings, Hancock well demonstrated the reasons for his career longevity.