When Herbie Hancock introduced his band-Vinnie Colaiuta, drums; Nathan East, bass; and Lionel Loueke, guitar-at Campbell Hall Sunday night, he finished by saying, “I’m just the old man. I’m your neighbor; I live in L.A.” While we in the audience were awestruck by the presence of one of the greatest jazz musicians of all time, Hancock made us comfortable, too. On a stage covered with instruments and electronics, Hancock made it all seem as easy as singing “Happy Birthday” to his daughter, which we did with him, and we sounded good. Hancock has a way of being generous with music, giving everybody a chance to play their best, and we all benefited from that giving spirit Sunday night.
Almost as soon as the concert began, Hancock told about an amazing 17-beat song composed by Lionel Loueke, an extraordinarily talented guitarist from Benin, West Africa, “but we’re not going to play that, because we can’t.” Instead, he incorporated it into one of his signature songs, “Watermelon Man,” and it worked beautifully. Loueke performed solo afterward, but it would have been hard to tell that he was alone from the sound. His voice, his guitar, and an array of foot-operated synthesizers sounded more like a chorus of baying hounds, and a hundred other amazing, unidentifiable things.
Hancock then brought out singer Sonya Kitchell for three songs from his new album, River, which is a tribute to Joni Mitchell. Kitchell sang with extraordinary clarity and beauty, finding the nuance and heartbreak in “All I Want,” “River,” and especially “Court and Spark.” Hancock never mentioned it, but this accomplished, sophisticated singer is 18, and she fit right into the easy, joyful feeling of the group. Hancock followed this brief set with a solo, “Maiden Voyage,” from his 1965 album, and the tune was as fresh and thoughtful as ever.
The evening’s big surprise came next, when Hancock told us, “We’re going to need two singers for this one, so I asked a friend to help out.” Kitchell came back out with Kenny Loggins, and they sang a powerful version of “When Love Comes to Town,” the U2 and B.B. King collaboration. Afterward, Hancock lowered the volume, but not the intensity, with some of his standards, including “Cantaloupe Island,” and came out for three generous encores, despite having played continuously for over two hours.