Herbie Hancock, Tuesday November 12, 1996

The Regal Theatre, Subiaco

Ably assisted by the most astute Mr Rex Horan, Bmus., and Cinema Prague bassplayer virtuoso.

It has long been the tradition of jazz artists to take popular tunes and adapt them into “standards”. Herbie Hancock’s latest album, The New Standard, has the prodigious pianist/composer lending his deft hand to numbers by Don Henley, Kurt Cobain (Nirvana) and Prince, and so it came as no surprise for Peter Gabriel’s Mercy Street to be given a solidly grooving Latin treatment to open Hancock’s latest Australian tour.

Musically, Hancock has travelled a great journey to get to this juncture – from the stoic Miles Davis Quintet of 1963-68, to the electronic experimentation of 1973’s Headhunters album and his early-eighties’ Future Shock album which spawned the hit Rockit. “This is not the Rockit band”, he chuckled. “There ain’t no turntables here.”

Hancock (piano) and his collegues Craig Handy (tenor and soprano saxophones – who also appears in Robert Altman’s Kansas City), Kenny Davis (electric and acoustic basses) and Gene Jackson (drums) then served up Lennon and McCartney’s Norwegian Wood, featuring Davis on double bass who presented a style reminiscient of Scott Lafaro. Davis and Jackson maintained a lilting open feel throughout the tune over which Hancock and Handy, whose style sometimes echoes that of Sonny Rollins and Wayne Shorter, built melodic and emotive solos of great beauty and subtlety – an overall essay in the power of restraint.

Dolphin Dance brought Hancock’s stunning solo virtuosity to the fore, demonstrating thematic economy though astounding creativity. The entire quartet stretched themselves throughout this tune, all of them venturing into double time and making the most of the rhythmic potential of the pedal points in this Hancock penned classic.

A funkier side of the group was revealed as they performed Cantaloupe Island, the groove being seemless, a string snapping early in the piece not enough to even slightly interfere with the hard funk bass playing of Kenny Davis. One Finger Snap was presented at a firey tempo and once again Hancock soloed with flair and mastery. Davis’ driving bass kept the momentum surging, the piece reaching a momentus climax as he and Hancock dropped out leaving Hendy on tenor and drummer Gene Jackson swinging with an intensity rarely seen.

A long, free introduction by Hancock opened the encore Maiden Voyage, a fitting finale to the concert, as indeed it was a voyage of just some of the highlights of the last 30 years of this jazz legend’s career and the introduction of three of the most talented younger players on the scene.