The red velvet curtain is illuminated with a bright, lush, and flowing light. It stands behind a stage filled with a grand piano and synthesizer, an electric guitar and amp, a jazz drum kit, a five-string bass and amp, and a keyboard and vocoder voice synthesizer set-up.
From the looks of it, everything is ready this Saturday, February 9, 2019 at BergenPAC in Englewood, NJ, for a performance by the legendary jazz composer, keyboardist, and bandleader, Herbie Hancock!
As we wait for the show to start, we speak with several Herbie Hancock fans in the audience.
First, we chat with John from Staten Island who tells us, “I’ve been a fan of Herbie Hancock since the 1960s. I saw him a few times when he played with Miles Davis, and I also saw him at the Blue Note in New York about 15 years ago,” before exclaiming, “I’m a jazz aficionado and he’s one very advanced jazz musician!”
Next, we talk to several members of a family of four from Chester. Explains mom, Barbara, “My son, Victor, is a music student — a drummer — who is studying jazz. When we learned that Herbie Hancock was going to be in town, we just had to bring the entire family to hear him.”
Dad Vic concurs recalling, “The first time I saw Herbie Hancock was in Boston about 20 years ago at an outdoor concert. Then, another time, I was in New York City and I went into this little bar, where I was shocked to see Herbie Hancock playing with Michael McDonald and Donald Fagen,” before declaring, “Herbie Hancock is one of my all-time favorite musicians!”
Lastly, we chat with Felipe and Carolina. Remarks Felipe — a guitarist and flute player visiting from Curitiba, Brazil — “I’m a big fan of Herbie Hancock. I just love his music — he’s the best at all styles of jazz!”
Explains Carolina — who originally hails from Brazil, but who now lives in New York’s Westchester County — “For Felipe’s birthday, he planned this trip so he could be here for tonight’s concert.” Adding, “I like Herbie Hancock because you can feel his music with your whole body — it just goes through you,” Caroline concludes by asserting, “To me, it’s like a great work of art when you hear him play — it’s like listening to a masterpiece painting!”
The house lights dim, and hoots and hollers begin to emanate from the packed house as a cadre of world-class musicians take the stage — West African musician Lionel Loueke on guitar, world-class percussionist Vinnie Colaiuta on drums, Saturday Night Live band member James Genus on bass, and hip-hop/rap producer Terrace Martin on sax/keyboards/vocoder.
Soon, Herbie Hancock walks out, waving and pointing to his fans with a huge smile as an excited audience member shouts out, “Hey, Herbie! Do that, Herbie!”
The band waits for the crowd to quiet before launching into an extended medley which features a mix of established instrumentals including “Butterfly” and “Chameleon,” in addition to two untitled instrumentals from an as-yet unreleased album, plus an “Overture” which musically ties the rest of the pieces together.
Hancock starts the medley off with an indescribable etherial sound which has tension building from his electronic keyboard. One by one, the entrance of each colleague’s instrument adds to the cacophony of sound bubbling up from the stage, which slowly begins to build in intensity.
The musicians bow their heads while they concentrate on creating their individual parts, and the red curtain turns to black while an abyss of sound envelopes the listener.
As Vinnie Colaiuta’s drums start to play a steadier beat, lights shift and flicker to the sound of the music which constantly changes. As it continues to progress, Hancock switches back and forth between his keyboard and a grand piano, and Lionel Loueke scats softly as he plays a wah-wah-like vibe on his guitar.
Bassist James Genus adds unique vocals to the mix after the audience cheers for a saxophone solo from talented multi-instrumentalist Terrace Martin.
Rhythmic vocal sounds punctuate the soundscape as Hancock plays up and down the keys of his grand piano, syncopating, juxtaposing, chording, and arpeggiating within the medley to great applause.
Over time, the soundscape becomes more organized and recognizable with the traditional elements of music — melody, rhythm, harmony, timbre, and dynamics — becoming more clearly defined. As it meanders, the crowd hoots and hollers each time they recognize a familiar funk riff or jazz fusion melody.
Hands crossing one another as he plays, Hancock’s keyboard performance is quick, agile, and precise. Lights dance across the stage as his band of peerless musicians expertly accompany him.
Bassist James Genus impresses the crowd by picking his 5-string bass with his thumb.
Guitarist Lionel Loueke adds vocals to his performance, singing high and quick before playing his guitar in a call and response fashion.
There is so much happening sonically in this remarkable performance that audience members cannot just listen with just their ears — they have to see and feel the music as well! Heads bop and hands pat as lovers of jazz fusion drink in the music which is spontaneously being created just for them!
At the end of the medley, the audience cheers and Hancock addresses the crowd, stating about his revered musical colleagues, “This is hard — it’s hard to play with them! They have so much courage, and they are on point at all times!”
Adding, “I’ve been coming to Englewood, NJ since the ‘60s,” Hancock explains, “Many times, I recorded right near here at Rudy Van Gelder’s studio in Englewood Cliffs.”
After looking around and noticing, “There are a lot of people here tonight of all ages,” Hancock thanks the audience for coming before introducing his next number — a song he recorded in the 1970s with The Headhunters entitled “Actual Proof.”
On this high-energy funk fusion piece, the music adroitly flows from the musicians directly to the audience. Piano, bass, and drums simmer, the interplay simplified before building back up as the guitar enters.
Lionel Loueke impresses with a guitar solo which sounds just like an organ!
Terrace Martin follows up with a sax solo which starts out soft and mellow but builds in intensity to a rapid honking sound before morphing into screaming long notes.
The crowd cheers for James Genus’ fluttering bass solo. Scat-singing as he plays, his right hand plucks his bass with a notable two-finger technique.
Superstar jazz drummer Vinnie Colaiuta is also featured on this number, his brilliant solo alternating back and forth with the members of the ensemble before the piece ends to energetic cheers and applause!
Next up is “Come Running to Me,” a mellow and melodic number replete with Latin rhythms. As the band percolates, Hancock sings into a vocal processor a la Daft Punk. Then, he and Terrace Martin harmonize, their two voices electronically processed to sound like a full choir!
As the sweet and easy Latin beat dances on, Hancock excites the crowd by simultaneously playing multiple keyboards, and Lionel Loueke solos while he sings, creating a unique intermixture of sound right before the audience’s eyes and ears.
Hancock channels the masters of bebop on his percussive grand piano solo which features extensive use of chromatics. As he plays, lights quickly dance to the music creating visual movement while the curtain seems to flutter in response to the output of the dynamic performance taking place on the stage.
Hancock appears to be amazed by his fellow musicians as they accompany his tremolo piano solo. When the piece ends, the audience reacts with huge applause, after which one fan yells out, “What’s next, man? What’s next?”
What’s next is a new song entitled “Secret Sauce.” On this “Graceland” meets fusion-type number, Lionel Loueke plays a blues guitar solo a la Larry Carlton, and Hancock plays a funk keyboard solo in multiple time signatures.
For the evening’s final number, Hancock and Co. perform a medley consisting of Hancock’s “Cantaloupe Island” and an original composition by Lionel Loueke entitled “Flying.”
Featuring an opening which combines feedback and a Twilight Zone-like space age sonar soundscape, Terrace Martin channels Weather Report’s Wayne Shorter and Hancock plays a portable keyboard called a keytar which he handles like a guitar.
The rhythm section plays in slow motion in contrast to Hancock’s quick fingering skills, and Vinnie Colaiuta shines on an ace drum solo which features complex rhythms rolling back and forth from drum to drum.
After shifting into “Flying” — a rhythm and blues number— Loueke plays a Rick Derringer-like rock guitar solo to great applause. Then, Hancock takes another turn in the spotlight before the piece shifts back into “Cantaloupe Island” where Terrace Martin’s sax honks — alternating between short staccato notes and long legato notes as he wails and sails through the piece.
Ending to great cheers and applause, the quintet takes a bow before the entire BergenPAC crowd which is now standing and cheering on its feet!
Although Hancock and friends leave the stage, they soon return for an electrifying encore — a funk version of “Chameleon” — which has all five virtuosos standing and playing center stage! Hancock rocks out on the keytar to the simmering funk beat, his fingers dancing across the keys — playful, frantic, and miraculous — as the audience stands, dances, and bops to the soulful funk sound.
As the piece continues, the musicians play off one another, clearly enjoying each other’s talent, and they echo one another before jumping up in the air and landing together with a giant leap at the end!
There are cheers, hoots, and applause as the ensemble takes its final bow — all smiling at the impressive response from the crowd — before Herbie Hancock earnestly claps for the audience and thanks them all once again for coming.
As happy members of the crowd make their way out of the BergenPAC auditorium, we chat with several in the audience who share their opinions of this evening’s performance.
Comments Adam from Bergenfield, “Tonight’s concert was everything — and yet nothing — I ever expected! Herbie Hancock is a true musical genius!”
“He keeps you fully engaged,” continues Adam. “Plus, I really appreciated the interplay which guitarist Lionel Loueke had with all the other musicians on stage.”
Danielle from Bergenfield concurs before adding, “Herbie Hancock is one ever-evolving musician. With him, you always have to be thinking — which, to me, is one of the main reasons for experiencing any live musical performance.”
Lastly, we chat with Victor from Chester, the music student whose parents we spoke to before the show.
Declares Victor, “This concert was absolutely the best — it far exceeded my expectations! These musicians comprise an all-star band which played a mix of new music and the kind of music I study at school,” before concluding with a smile, “All in all — it was just incredible!”