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Wednesday, Aug. 25, 2010

Herbie Hancock @ Potawatomi Bingo Casino

Aug. 20, 2010

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One of life’s immutable truths is that once you find your groove, everything else seems effortless and free. Credit Herbie Hancock for being the master teacher of that truth.

The 70-year-old, Chicago-born, multiple-Grammy-winning jazz pianist brought his “Imagine Project” tour to a wildly appreciative capacity crowd at Northern Lights Theater in the Potawatomi Bingo Casino Friday. In a venue once known for its hour-long shows, Hancock and his quintet pumped out two-and-a-half seamless hours of jazz, funk and highlights from The Imagine Project, Hancock’s new CD he says is designed to promote “peace through global collaboration.”

Having been part of trumpeter Miles Davis’ second great quintet, Hancock has not let the label or the years slow him down. The evening played like a greatest-hits performance from throughout the chameleonic performer’s varied career, with a strong emphasis on the new CD and far too few cuts from River: The Joni Letters, the CD that won Hancock a 2008 Grammy for best album.

Hancock set the groove with “Actual Proof,” a familiar concert opener, followed by a long introduction of the band members and new CD. Although the recording features nearly 20 international stars with cuts recorded in seven countries, the evening relied heavily on the five sidemen, with keyboard player Greg Phillinganes and violinist Christina Trane doing excellent jobs performing all the vocals.

From the past Hancock pulled “Seven Teens/Watermelon Man,” “Cantaloupe Island” and Joni Mitchell’s “Court and Spark.” Midway, he performed a long, contemplative solo that segued into a funk medley bringing to mind the days of the Headhunters.

From the new recording came John Lennon’s “Imagine” and Peter Gabriel’s “Don’t Give Up.” Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin’” backed into Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come,” and the excellent “Tamatant Tilay” overlain with Bob Marley’s “Exodus” featured a recording of Tinariwen, a Tuareg group from the Sahara desert who appeared on the disc.

A solid rhythm section supported the evening, with Benin-born guitarist Lionel Loueke creating some marvelously inventive riffs and turns in counterpoint to Hancock’s beautifully complex piano. Despite growing competition, it’s clear that Hancock remains the world’s musical ambassador, as well as its groove master.

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