Album review. Herbie Hancock, the most important living US musician, is celebrating his seventieth birthday with a gift to the world of music and to the world itself.
Release date: June 21st 2010
Availability: CD, MP3 Download
Herbie Hancock, the most important living US musician, is celebrating his seventieth birthday with a gift to the world of music and - depending on how far you think music can promote change - to the world itself.
'The Imagine Project' began as a meditation on John Lennon's seminal declamation of how that world could become a better place and evolved into an expansive project in which Herbie Hancock traveled the globe to bring together musicians and singers from the most disparate traditions around a programme that can stand as a beacon for a new hope for change in an often more than ever cynical environment. As such it is not only the most important vocal jazz album to be released in decades but also one of the most important statements of jazz as commitment since Max Roach's 60's album 'We Insist'.
As Herbie Hancock comments*:
'At this point, I think about purpose before I decide to make a record……. The economic crisis pointed out to me that the average American has a sense of globalization right at their back door. It's time for people to create the kind of world we want to live in, and the path toward peace will come through global collaboration.'
Herbie Hancock and producer Larry Klein traveled the world – to London and Paris, to Mumbai, India, to Ireland, back to the States - to bring together a talented group of musicians from the pop, jazz, folk and world music traditions.
The John Lennon touchstone 'Imagine' brings together Seal, Pink, Congolese band Konono No l, Jeff Beck, Malian vocalist Oumou Sangare, India.Arie, Lionel Loueke and Marcus Miller in a riveting performance, kicked off by the powerful vocal harmonies of Pink and Seal.
'Don't Give Up' features Pink and John Legend (with a delivery worthy of composer Peter Gabriel) and haunting harmonies that bring out the full meaning of the relevance to the apartheid struggle in South Africa. On both tracks Jeff Beck's guitar playing is outstanding.
Sam Cooke's 'A Change is Gonna Come' – made definitive on the Otis Redding album 'Otis Blue' - features English singer James Morrison in a fine interpretation.
These three tracks are the heartbeat of the album. If the hairs on the back of your neck don't stand up, you're missing something.
Background on the album and the project is given in the following EPKs for Sony/BMG in Singapore:
On the remaining tracks, 'Tempo De Amo is a performace by Brazilian jazz singer Céu.
'Space Captain' is headed up by ex-Allman Band slide guitarist Derek Trucks and his blues singer wife Susan Tedeschi.
The Bob Dylan song 'The Times, They Are A' Changin' brings together Irish folk group The Chieftains, Toumani Diabeté, Lionel Loueke and Lisa Hannigan.
'La Tierra' features Colombian rock/jazz musician Juanes, known for his humanitarian work to aid Columbian vicitims of mines.
'Exodus' brings together south Saharan nomad band Tinariwen and Tex-Mex rockers Los Lobos with Herbie Hancock in Headhunters funk mode.
Lennon/ McCartney's 'Tomorrow Never Knows' is given a suitably mystical and spacey treatment by Dave Matthews, backward guitar loops included.
The closing 'The Song Goes On' features sitarist Anoushka Shankar (daughter of Ravi and half sister of Norah Jones), Chaka Khan and old jazz compatriot Wayne Shorter.
A truly mind stretching international grouping of musicians, not brought together in this way before.
Herbie Hancock's piano playing throughout is perceptive, restrained and enabling. It befits his intention to politely direct a mainly younger generation of musicians towards a music of global significance.
As Herbie Hancock told Jill Jacobs**, much of the inspiration for overcoming the difficulties in achieving the project came from his adherence to Buddhism:
'In Buddhism, they say if you try to do something for the greater good, no question you will run into obstacles. I knew this record was for the greater good because I ran into some major challenges….. But winning over obstacles is the key to happiness because hidden beneath an obstacle lies its value and it's your responsibility to find what that is. That's the key…. To look at it that way will move your life forward. That's true freedom."
He also pointed to the lifelong influence of Miles Davis:
'I think he would like this project. I think a lot of people who played with Miles were deeply touched by the experience of working with him in a way that's mystical and indescribable.'
Miles certainly would not have been troubled by the observation that the result of 'The Imagine Project' is more like pop than jazz – those distinctions became as unimportant to him as they clearly are for Herbie Hancock. The aim is to make music that can engage and inspire people wherever they are. Music that can make a difference. And that is very much the status that this fine celebration of the world of committed music deserves.
*Steve Jones: Hancock thinks big on new album
** Jill Jacobs: Herbie Hancock Goes Global for "The Imagine Project"
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