Jazz icon and music innovator Herbie Hancock played to a packed house at the Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel on Wednesday night, offering up selections from every chapter of his diverse repertoire.Surrounded by four different sets of keys, including a keytar and acoustic piano, Herbie was right at home. He wasted no time showcasing his versatility as he jumped back and forth between the piano and keyboard throughout the first number – a complicated, tempo-changing piece titled “Actual Proof.”
And while his funky, synthesized solos were definite crowd-pleasers, the biggest highlight of the evening was when he took the stage alone for a moving solo on the acoustic piano. Classically trained as child, Herbie lingered on a slow, sweet tune before the band rejoined him and jazzed it back up for an intense finale.
When introducing his band, Hancock jokingly described them as “a band of thieves…because they like to play with time.” They certainly lived up to that description in the second selection, a mash-up between the classic “Watermelon Man” and the relatively new “Seventeens” – two songs in two totally different time signatures. The complex transitions were enough to trip up even the most talented rhythm section, but not Herbie’s drummer and “twenty-fingered” bassist. They switched so seamlessly between the two songs that the audience barely knew it was happening. And on top of it all, Herbie delivered a keytar solo worthy of a Lady Gaga synth-pop anthem.
There was, unfortunately, one semi-low point on the set list: the over-wrought ballad “Come Running to Me” in which Hancock uses a vocoder to deliver sappy lyrics. Even after explaining that he was the second person in the world to record with a vocoder in the late ’70s (when he wrote the tune), the recent obsessive with auto-tuning made the whole thing seem very stale, and he ended up sounding more like some sort of Ray Charles robot clone than a trailblazer. The only thing that saved the number was Hancock’s guitarist, who took over with his own original jam – a transient mix of traditional African singing and unusual guitar playing techniques looped over each other that earned him a standing ovation.
The night ended with an energetic encore of two Herbie Hancock fan-favorites: “Rockit” and “Chameleon.” Complete with industrial sound effects and a completely electric drum kit, Herbie took the opportunity to release all his crazy, funkified energy onto every instrument he could get his hands on, truly leaving it all out on the stage.