Music News & Reviews

Herbie Hancock slips in to Louisville on Sunday

Herbie Hancock, who turned 70 this year, shows no sign of slowing.
Herbie Hancock, who turned 70 this year, shows no sign of slowing.

Herbie Hancock

7:30 p.m. Aug. 15 at Brown Theatre, 315 W. Broadway, Louisville. $37.50, $57.50, $69.50. (502) 584-7777.

A pronounced air of anticipation follows Herbie Hancock wherever he performs. Mostly, that's because unless one examines the program notes for his concerts beforehand, we never really know which Herbie is going to hit the stage.

Will it be the artfully industrious pianist and composer who cut numerous groundbreaking solo albums for the Blue Note label before joining Miles Davis' legendary quintet in the '60s, when he performed on albums including the classic In a Silent Way?

Will it be the funk/fusion architect who pioneered new voices for jazz phrasing with his electric album Head Hunters in the '70s and again with street-savvy turntable music via Rockit in the '80s?

Or perhaps it might be the multigenerational, Grammy-winning jazz journeyman whose recent studio albums have enlisted numerous star vocalists to forge new voices for jazz, pop, soul and world music.

Before settling all of that, we should probably point out that the single most anticipated aspect of Hancock's performance Sunday in Louisville is that it's happening. The show was announced with little fanfare in the middle of the summer. Almost no word of the concert has filtered down to Lexington.

That's astonishing because Hancock has been especially visible in recent years, beginning with his surprising album of the year win at the Grammys in 2008 for his Joni Mitchell tribute, River: The Joni Letters.

But the fanfare has been especially strong this year. Hancock turned 70 in April and kicked off celebrations that included a huge tribute concert at Carnegie Hall. Its guest list boasted longtime jazz pals Wayne Shorter, Ron Carter, Dave Holland and Jack DeJohnette, and the husband-and-wife rock-and-soul team of Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi. The program will be repeated at the Hollywood Bowl in California on Sept. 1— an apt booking because Hancock, among his many current musical duties, is creative chairman for the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Between the festivities, there has been, of course, work — namely a continuing world tour with Hancock's current band (guitarist Lionel Loueke, drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, second keyboardist Greg Phillinganes, bassist Tal Wilkenfeld and singer Kristina Train).

So having Hancock slip into Louisville on Sunday with so little fanfare is remarkable. This will mark his first Kentucky outing since a sold-out concert in November 2003 at the Singletary Center for the Arts. That show was notable because it fell one night before Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band played Rupp Arena. Several E Streeters, in fact, were heavily rumored to have been part of the audience.

Sunday also will be the first time that Hancock has played a predominantly electric show since a September 1976 outing at the University of Kentucky's Memorial Coliseum — when Hancock was very much at the forefront of a new-generation jazz-fusion movement.

So that leads back to the original question: Which Herbie will play Louisville this weekend? The answer is, not surprisingly, all of them. Hancock is promoting his new album, The Imagine Project, which is far from a jazz project. But the piano orchestration coloring the album's take on Peter Gabriel's Don't Give Up nicely echoes such great Hancock compositions as Maiden Voyage.

Additionally, Head Hunters classics including Chameleon have popped up on set lists this summer. That means the fusion angle will be covered. And with Loueke, Phillinganes and Wilkenfeld juggling vocal duties with Train, there will be plenty of firepower for tunes from River and The Imagine Project.

So there you have it. Seven decades. Three Herbies. One evening. Be there.