Herbie Hancock strode onto the stage in black jeans and shoes, a brightly patterned red shirt and waved to the cheering audience in the well-sold house. I can't believe the man is 71 years old- he easily looks 20 years younger. Taking a seat at the Korg, he pulled the band into a tight, funky version of 1974's "Actual Proof," taken at a hard, funked out bop. Hancock swiveled to the piano and began working with Colaiuta, percolating the song toward a crescendo and when it hits, it hits with a bang but it doesn't stop- he lets it subside so Loueke can join in and bring it back to another climax. I'm just sitting there, somewhat amazed at how tight these guys are out the gate.
When it ended Hancock grabbed a mike and stood center-stage, smiling.
"You have no idea what it's like to play with these musicians... This is dangerous stuff."
And for the next hour and a half he proceeded to back those words up with some funk-laden jazz that covered a lot of the ground he's explored in his fifty-year plus long career, chops on display all the way.
"Watermelon Man" came next, done in 70's Headhunters-style, rather than the original 60's version. It segued into a tune called "Seventeens"- a nod to the time it's played in, composed by Loueke for the band. In the middle of all of this Hancock grabbed the Roland and had something of a bass-off with Genus, the only section of the show that bogged, depending on one's enthusiasm for lengthy indulgences (my own is obviously not deep). During the extended jam, everyone got their moment to show off in a solo.
Hancock took the mike again, this time to oversell Loueke's coming solo turn, which was impressive, but didn't exactly deliver what Hancock billed it as, which was something along the lines of you won't believe this is only one man and one guitar. Actually, the one guitar part was easy- it was Loueke's processed vocals accompanying it that was truly a surprise. Both his voice and guitar were drenched in effect, delivering some sounds from his native Benin with mesmerizing results, making me regret I missed his recent show presented by SFJazz last season.
Then came the moment I was really looking forward to more than anything, Hancock alone on the piano, performing an improvisation that went deep into conflicted territory before coming to light as "Someone to Watch Over Me"- the extended intro passage in hindsight sounded like a plea, or justification for needing just that.
The band returned and began "Speak Like a Child," but it wasn't long before that turned into a bumping version of "Cantaloupe Island" that kept chugging along for quite awhile, giving both Genus and Loueke generous moments to shine, while Colaiuta kept the beat incredibly tight.
And that was that- almost. The band returned for an encore of "Chameleon" that was just drenched in funk, more than once entering deep P-Funk territory. It was pretty glorious to behold stretching out to the length found on the album version.
Done with it, the band lined up in front of the stage and took a bow. "Rockit" blasted over the PA and Hancock led the band in a little Bros Johnson style move, albeit a Senior's version- it was charming. The crowd rose, gave them a standing ovation, the band walked off, leaving the beautiful noise of Grandmaster DST's scratching to put a smile on everyone's face as they headed for the doors.
The next gigs on the tour are Sept. 23rd in San Diego with this band and then he's performing with the LA Phil at Disney Hall on Sept. 27th. I'd love to see that.