Sunday, May 27, 2007

The jazz chameleon at the Atlanta Jazz Festival

Herbie Hancock was the final act at Piedmont Park on Saturday, May 26, 2007 as part of the 30th Atlanta Jazz Festival. Although the bill read "The Herbie Hancock Quintet", there were just four people on stage: Nathan East (more familiar to me as EC's regular bassist) on bass, Lionel Loueke (guitar), Vinnie Colaiuta (drums) and the man himself challenging time and harmony with the piano, a Korg synthesizer and a strap-on synthesizer that he wielded in a question-answer jam like a guitarist. The set was short, thanks to delays that seemed to set in early in the day (the band didn't get on stage till about an hour after schedule). They started off with Actual Proof (from the 1974 album Thrust); two tracks came from his 2005 CD Possibilities with Nathan East offering some wonderful vocals on both: Stitched Up and an engaging improvisation on When Love Comes To Town. Wonderful jam-a-thons took off from the classic Watermelon Man and Cantaloupe Island; an inebriated dame and her beau put paid to part of my concentration and I think I missed out on the promised 17-beat cycle experiment that the quartet attempted during Watermelon Man. The most interesting track of the evening belonged to Lionel Loueke whose "soup" (as Herbie Hancock refers to it) was a two-course journey beginning with a blend of African vocal refrains and sounds (clicks, pops, growls) mixed with various sounds elicited from his electric guitar (taps, muted note sequences) (did he also elicit the aid of digital samples in all this?) and moving into a crescendo of improvisation led by some breathtaking work from Vinnie Colaiuta on the skins. I think the name of this track is Virgin Forest, but I'd have to listen to the cut on Loueke's album to know if I'm right or wrong.

I've been reading reports of other concerts by the Quartet (was there ever a fifth on this tour?) and can't help wondering if the constraints on time denied us an encore that might have featured Hancock's famous electronic jazz-funk classic Chameleon. Sigh.

One must note the usual annoyances: the usual crowds, the drunk dodderheads lacking basic social etiquette, clogged streets, lack of suitable parking (a general NP-hard problem with the sprawl and a specific problem for the park -- the proposal for a parking deck faces opposition from the Friends Of Piedmont Park). Something similar happens on game weekends and good sense is slated never to prevail. A future of a wave of cars drenched in strata of smog losing the race to a snail awaits the sprawl.

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