There are so many great names in jazz that diving into the genre headfirst can be a little bit overwhelming. I know because I did just that a couple of years ago, and while the abundance of names can be daunting (and more greats seem to be continually added), the list will most likely whittle down to a select few whom you truly cherish. One of those names for me is Herbie Hancock.
I was initially introduced to Herbie back when I was a kid through his hit ’80s single “Rockit,” but having since heard his incredible contributions to Miles Davis’ experimental period in the late-60s and 70s, his own solo records in bebop and post-bop, and his works alongside the most talented artists in the business, I can say he’s made such an impression on me that I consider him the top tier of creators in any genre in any art medium.
When I found out Herbie Hancock was going to be performing at the Hollywood Bowl, I had to leap at the opportunity to see him live. While I didn’t realize until the day of the concert that he would be performing with a full orchestra, I knew, in hindsight, that that was exactly how I wanted to see him to begin with. During that set, he would go on to perform many of the finest cuts from his discography, and along with a series of openers that included some of the future greats in the genre, he delivered one of the best live experiences Los Angeles has offered me yet.
The excellent evening kicked off with a band I’ve been raving about to everyone for the last year: Robert Glasper Experiment. They played a half-hour set to a mostly-filled crowd at the Bowl, blending together some of the best tracks from their first two albums, the GRAMMY-award winning Black Radio and its 2013 sequel, Black Radio 2.
What Robert Glasper Experiment lacked in featured guests (Erykah Badu, Musiq Soulchild, Bilal, Anthony Hamilton, Jill Scott, and Mos Def helped add an extra depth to the group’s blend of experimental jazz, R&B, and rap on their studio tracks), they made up for with a sweet flow and instrumentation that really reverberated throughout the venue.
Robert Glasper paid his respects to his fellow concert mates Gregory Porter and Herbie Hancock during his set by saying he was the original writer and composer of their hit songs. He was obviously joking and gave the audience a good laugh, but I wouldn’t be too surprised if his musical genius really will inspire future hit-makers in the genre as I’m positive both Black Radio albums will age very well.
Gregory Porter — a relative newcomer to the highly-esteemed jazz label Blue Note Records and winner of the GRAMMY award for best jazz-vocal album for Liquid Spirit — was next to perform. His 40-minute set contained notable piano and sax solo compositions, but the real attraction was Porter, of course, and his soul-lifting voice and stage presence.
While mainly sticking to material such as “On My Way To Harlem” and “Work Song” from his previous record, Be Good, Porter performed tremendously, belting out his now-signature bravado vocals and providing a fully down-to-earth tonality to his set. He was the perfect fulcrum between the more challenging Robert Glasper Experiment and the more classical Herbie Hancock, who performed next.
With Vince Mendoza at the conducting helm, Herbie Hancock and his orchestra turned in nine tracks over a solid hour set that featured wonderfully vibrant renditions of some of Herbie’s hits as well as deep cuts. All he had to do was walk on stage to get the crowd and myself hollering, and the enthusiasm was repeated after he completed each and every song.
The luscious clarity of the orchestra permeated the cool, summer evening air in a way that I had honestly forgotten was so amazing to feel, a sign that I’ve been going to too many stuffy indoor concerts lately. They served the illustrious Hollywood Bowl justice to the point that you could hear each specific instrument no matter where you ended up in the venue.
As for Herbie himself, he sat at his piano for the entirety of the set, save for a couple of moments when he acknowledged the audience, his bandmates, and his concert mates. He notably told the crowd that the track “Speak Like A Child” was dedicated to his daughter, who was somewhere in the sea of people, which also included Kareem Abdul Jabaar and Stephen Bruner, aka Thundercat. This made for a much more poignant second half of his set, during which he performed the beautiful “Sonrisa” and “A Song For You,” for which Gregory Porter once again stepped out on the stage to provide vocals.
The set ended without Herbie saying goodbye, but he didn’t have to. He bowed along with the rest of the orchestra, and we applauded accordingly. It was orderly, and fittingly so, as I left the Bowl with more appreciation and admiration for the man than I had when I entered. It was an evening that was meant to celebrate the artist’s incredible career, and it was done in a way that showcased all the various styles of the genre. Herbie Hancock is a legend and will remain a legend, and seeing him live is now something I can cross off my bucket list.
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