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Herbie Hancock review, 'Tenor Masters,' Moody scholarship

Ron Scott | 3/21/2012, 5:33 p.m.

Herbie Hancock is my longtime jazz favorite. I have a serious collection of his albums--yes, from long before the CD phase. During college, my main three Hancock albums--"Maiden Voyage," "The Prisoner" and "Empyrean Isles"--were a part of my dormitory collection.

When I heard my idol was performing at Jazz at Lincoln Center (March 9-10), there was no question I would be there. With a heavy heart, I have to report my disappointment in Hancock's performance.

Due to my Hancock alliance, every effort was made to get into the spirit of the moment, moving my head to the scattered fusion beats, tapping my foot, but nothing worked. My listening path was cluttered by the consistent roar of crazy synthesizers and electric bass rhythms. Oddly enough, the audience, who seemed to be over 50, was actively into the music, moving their heads and seat-dancing.

The band of exceptional musicians in their own right included bassist James Genus (currently a member of the "Saturday Night Live" band), drummer Treavor Lawrence Jr. and guitarist Lionel Loueke. Loueke was mentored by Hancock and the only musician not plugged in. His solo performance was a journey to his homeland of West Africa; his rhythms were subtle but striking, with melodic vocals in his native tongue.

Hancock was dressed in a bright, multicolored sports shirt, black pants and pointy-toed shoes--maybe they were cowboy boots. One of my favorite jazz pianists just seemed to be dressed too hip. He has moved on from his Brooks Brothers' suits and straight-ahead sound. In the program, Hancock stated, "I need new stuff...I need to feel I'm making a new perspective."

Oh, he did play "Cantaloupe Island" from "Empyrean Isles," but it was so deeply fried in loud drum beats, electric bass, synthesizers and electric keyboards that it was difficult to distinguish. "Rockit" was a high moment for me, but "4 AM" was a little too twisted for me to really get into, although the recorded version is cool.

Miles Davis once stated, "If you don't like the s-- I'm playing, stay home and play the album." This is good advice for an old Herbie fan. After all, you can't blame a musician for wanting to expand his horizons by taking the music in different directions. Jazz is always moving, as Hancock's album title suggests, it's about "Inventions and Dimensions" (Blue Note, 1963).

You can be sure there will be no fusion at "The Music of the Tenor Masters: Joe Lovano and Benny Golson" in the Allen Room at Jazz at Lincoln Center (60th Street and Broadway) on March 23-24. There will be two shows each evening at 7:30 and 9:30 p.m.

Tenor saxophonists were always big on the jazz scene--perhaps it had something to do with such greats as Lester Young, John Coltrane, Joe Henderson and Dexter Gordon. Golson followed these masters and has become a masterful composer and tenor player. Lovano followed the tenor footsteps to perfect his own sound and hip compositions. These titans will enjoy the company of an all-star band featuring pianist Kenny Barron, Bennie Maupin (bass clarinet, tenor and soprano saxophones), bassist George Mraz and drummer Lewis Nash.