Herbie Hancock Piano
Michael Brecker Tenor Saxophone, Soprano Saxophone
John Scofield Acoustic Guitar, Electric Guitar, Electric Sitar
Dave Holland Acoustic Bass
Jack DeJohnette Drums, Percussion
Don Alias Percussion
Sam Riney Flute
Gary Herbig Flute, Bass Clarinet
Gene Cipriano Oboe, English Horn
William E. Green Flute
Lester Lovitt Trumpet, Flugelhorn
Oscar Brashear Flugelhorn
Suzette Moriarty French Horn
Maurice Spears Bass Trombone
Margaret R. Wootn Violin
Lili R. Haydn Violin
Richard S. Greene Violin
Cameron L. Stone Cello
Herbie Hancock's body of excellent work is vast but this 1996 CD is one of his more interesting latter day recordings. It's also one of my favourites. On it, he is joined by some of my most favourite players; Michael Brecker on tenor and soprano saxophones, John Scofield on guitar, Dave Holland on acoustic bass, Jack DeJohnette on drums and electric percussion and Don Alias on percussion.
The idea is a great one - take current popular songs and make new jazz standards out of them. The idea of making jazz versions of pop tunes is not new of course but while other so-called jazz musicians have just remade the originals of their choice, lazily replacing the vocal phrases with their instruments, Hancock has done the job the way it's supposed to be done. He's considered the tunes very carefully and then, together with Bob Belden, given them new and exciting arrangements. Produced by Hancock and Guy Eckstine, the album tackles tunes from Don Henley, Peter Gabriel, The Beatles, Babyface, Sade, Simon & Garfunkel, Prince, Nirvana and Steely Dan.
It's great stuff. I particularly love the way Hancock would phrase the end of a solo, only to have that phrase echoed by Scofield at the beginning of his. They do that on two of my favourite songs - the opening "New York Minute" and "Love Is Stronger Than Pride". The ballad "Norwegian Wood" is pure magic. The way John Scofield plays on it blows my mind every time I listen. "Thieves In The Temple" and "When Can I See You" (where Don Alias really shines) are also particularly interesting.
But I love all the songs really. Just as you think the album is about to end on a quiet note via "All Apologies" and the Herbie Hancock and Jean Hancock original "Manhattan", in comes the stomper "Your Gold Teeth II" to pick things up again.
I had quite a few of the original songs before I heard this album and those I didn't have I went and searched out after I'd heard it. I feel Herbie Hancock has managed, (with the exception, maybe, of the Nirvana tune - nobody and nothing, in my view, can beat the haunted and haunting sound of Kurt Cobain's voice), that very rare feat of making covers of songs sound much more interesting than the originals. Some of his more recent outings have been a bit ropey in my view (though, admittedly, very popular) but there's no doubt in my mind that he's one of the musical geniuses of this generation. If ever any proof was needed, this album with its all-star cast, is it.
The voices are instantly recognizable. Jack DeJohnette's percussive timekeeping has an unmistakable feel to it--full, tight, busy. John Scofield's bright and warm guitar always slides right into the groove. And Herbie Hancock's mastery of the piano--exquisite voicings, inventive lines and precise time--combines with his and Bob Belden's insightful arrangements. The songs are standards, but not like you've ever heard them before.
Herbie Hancock has truly created THE NEW STANDARD, and it makes perfect sense. One wonders why, in an age of incestuous contemporary jazz, no one has successfully mined the wealth of recent American popular music. After all, one of the foundations of jazz itself has been the recycling and reinterpreting of "standards" taken from the great American songbook--tunes by Cole Porter, the Gershwins, Rodgers & Hart, Johnny Mercer, et al. These icons were responsible for much of the popularity of jazz in the past. Yet one of the problems with jazz today is that most of its listeners weren't even alive when these masters were in bloom.
Hancock does exactly what the old giants of jazz did: apply his keen ear to the songs and sounds of contemporary popular music, and he plays what he hears. Thus we have a frenetic version of Don Henley's "New York Minute," a grooving "Mercy Street" that benefits from Don Alias' percussion, a swinging "Scarborough Fair," and equally creative takes on Prince, Stevie Wonder, Nirvana and The Beatles. Throughout, Hancock, DeJohnette, Scofield, Dave Holland and Michael Brecker blow like the stunning dream team that they are.