Hancock has always been a leader in bringing new sounds to jazz and in crossing over into popular music, so the match between the septugenarian Hancock and players in their 20’s and 30’s never felt forced. Indeed, the juxtaposition and eventual collaboration between players who grew up with hip-hop and the keyboardist who first came on the scene in the era of hard-bop showed contemporary music catching up with Hancock’s ideas at least as much as it did his keeping pace with recent developments. Herbie Hancock’s set included music from all phases of his career, with the Headhunters era particularly well represented by an early set version of “Actual Proof” and a later all-star jam on the heavily sampled “Chameleon,” and generously included features for flautist-singer Elena Pinderhughes, guitarist Lionel Loueke and featured guests Phoelix and Thundercat, whose “Them Changes” was a crowd favorite. Hancock played a few different keyboards, getting sounds from funky to spacey from a Korg Kronos and a Keytar (his call and response on that instrument with sheets of sound soloing from saxophonist Washington was one of the highlights of the night), but he always returned home to a grand piano. Robert Glasper made good use of a Fender Rhodes on the closing jams of “Chameleon” and “Cantaloupe Island.” James Genus and Vinnie Colaiuta ably served the music on bass on drums, Colaiuta in particular driving it home with an approach that at times seemed to be part of a piece’s melody.
R+R=Now brought intensity, curiosity and great musicianship to a set of mostly original music that touched on music and sociopolitical ideas from seemingly everywhere. Joining Glasper were bassist Derrick Hodge and drummer Justin Tyson, who brought rhythms no less insistent for their complexity and syncopation; Tyson included an enthralling interpretation of the Beatles’ “Something” in his solo feature. Terrace Martin, on sax and keyboards in both groups, and Taylor McFerrin (Bobby’s son) on synthesizer and beats layered in sounds and samples, introducing material such as a speech from Nelson Mandela and, slyly, a quote from Hancock’s “Rockit” into the musical flow. Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah was consistently intense on his custom trumpet, particularly during a African-inspired section that rhythmically recalled some of Don Cherry’s world music experiments from the 80’s and 90’s.
In all, Herbie Hancock: Next Generation was an evening of music that was both thought-provoking and entertaining. Players like Kamasi Washington, Robert Glasper, Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah and the rest demonstrated their importance to the shape of jazz to come. No less impressively, Herbie Hancock, fifty-eight years since his recorded debut, proved his as well. The LA Philharmonic’s Creative Chair for Jazz, Hancock returns in March for a concert at Disney Hall.