Herbie Hancock

Herbie Hancock

    It would not surprise me if the many of the fans of Pink, John Legend and India Arie never heard of Herbie Hancock. However, it's clear that all of those performers knew who Hancock was, and they jumped at the chance to collaborate the Grammy Award winning pianist. At the very least, those vocalists knew that Hancock won the most recent of his numerous Grammy's for an album called River: The Joni Letters, in which Hancock and a group of collaborators made jazz interpretations of the songs of Joni Mitchell.

    It's more likely that these pop artists knew a whole lot more about Hancock's biography. They probably knew that Hancock sat on the piano bench as a member of the second great Miles Davis quintet - a group that also included Wayne Shorter, Tony Williams, and Ron Carter. They also know that as a leader, Hancock has created cutting edge music for nearly 50 years. Along with Davis , Hancock was a leader in the electrified jazz/funk/rock movement that became known as fusion. His group the Headhunters made songs such as "Chameleon" that helped define 1970s era jazz-fusion. Hancock also showed that he had Davis 's musical curiosity when he merged funk, jazz with hip -hop on his 1983 R&B hit "Rockit." So, when Herbie Hancock says he's interested in working with you on his appropriately titled album Imagine Project, even soul and rock stars like Pink, Legend and Arie just ask how to get to the studio.

    Hancock knows that A-list names such as Legend, Arie, Pink, Seal, Chaka Kahn and Dave Matthews will draw much of the attention. However, most mere mortals cannot perceive what the ears of Herbie Hancock hear. While others continue debating whether the pop music from the rock era can even be made into jazz, Hancock is busy looking for singers and musicians who can fulfill his vision. He hears a connection in the vocals of Legend and Pink that escape most people and pairs them on a pensive rendering of the Peter Gabriel song "Don't Give Up." He knows that The Beatles songbook is ripe for jazz interpretation, so he taps a who's who of American and world music singers and musicians for a rendering of John Lennon's post Fab Four classic "Imagine" that melds Afro-pop music with the guitar work of Jeff Beck. Okay, "Imagine" has long been a part of the jazz canon, but then Hancock recruits Dave Matthews to sing on the Oriental influenced "Tomorrow Never Knows." Hancock sees the possibilities of combining jazz and folk and wind up with him collaborating with the Irish group The Chieftains and singer/songwriter Lisa Hannigan on a rendition of Bob Dylan's "The Times They Are A' Changin.'" Most impressively, Hancock's arrangement of "A Change Is Gonna Come," flips the song totally on his head by transforming it into a sparse, small set combo featuring his nuanced piano playing and the deft drumming of Vinnie Colaiuta in an understated conversation with James Morrison's soulful vocals.

    There's a reason why this man has been on the top of the charts for more than 50 years. Highly Recommended.

    By Howard Dukes