As Herbie Hancock stepped out on stage at the Sony Centre on Friday night (June 29), he told the audience to prepare for a journey "to the unknown." And if there's anyone that's worth trusting with that type of promise, it's Hancock.
An artist whose restless creativity has placed at the forefront different genres such as funk and jazz fusion, who has recorded with everyone from Miles Davis to Joni Mitchell, and who even at 78 years old can bring groove like no one else, Hancock seems like the perfect candidate to take audiences on whirlwind adventures.
Right from the start, Hancock and his band seemed dead set on this notion of adventure. Their opening "Overture" began with ambient synthesizers, before eventually settling into a groove. Even then, they never stayed in the same place for too long, and featured plenty of surprises along the way. They quoted some of Hancock's own compositions like "Chameleon," (which would later close the set), and "Butterfly" (which unfortunately was not in the setlist), and Hancock admitted afterward he often doesn't know where the band will go during their overture. Elsewhere in the set, "Cantaloupe Island" earned cheers and "Come Running to Me" featured Hancock's effects-driven vocals.
While Hancock's soloing was reliably solid, guitarist Lionel Loueke was not to be outdone by the nearly octogenarian master. When he got a chance to solo, he made it count, but even when he wasn't in the spotlight, he was still able to turn heads with his interplay between the other band members. Even his tone was remarkable, at times sounding halfway between an organ and a theremin. He also took turns on vocals, and was commended by Hancock as a truly unique guitar player during the show. Loueke was the perfect foil for Hancock, and always responded well to what Hancock played. Their performance of "Actual Proof" essentially boiled down to a conversation between the two of them, and lucky for the audience, it was a fascinating conversation.
In the end, the evening consisted of a series of extended funk jams, as the band's set consisted of only about six songs over the course of nearly two hours. The group seemed reluctant to finish the performance, and preferred to keep digging for new material during their jams. There would always be unique twists and turns, and there was a sense that they were trying to go places they hadn't been before. And when you're listening to one of the world's most innovative jazz artists, you know that's never going to be a dull journey.