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Hancock quintet explores new directions

Christopher Kepner | Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Herbie Hancock, Michael Brecker and Roy Hargrove set out on a tour in 2001 to celebrate the 75th anniversaries of two of the greatest jazz musicians that have ever lived – Miles Davis and John Coltrane. With the addition of John Patitucci and Brian Blade to the rhythm section, this group is comprised of five of the top players in jazz today. On Oct. 25, 2001 their performance at Toronto’s Massey Hall was recorded for CBC Radio’s Jazz Beat program, and the result, Directions in Music: Live at Massey Hall, is now available on CD as documentation of this monumental tour.Hancock acts as the leader, being the oldest and the only one to have collaborated directly with Davis or Coltrane. He was a part of Miles’ great quintet of the 1960s with Wayne Shorter, Ron Carter and Tony Williams. It is obvious that Brecker and Hargrove share almost as much respect for Hancock as they do for Miles and Coltrane.While there are periods in both musicians’ careers that can be classified as classical or traditional, Davis and Coltrane refused to remain in one musical place for very long. They always strove to find new forms of expression, new musical outlets and new directions in their music. Hancock emphasizes that Directions … is not about playing through Davis and Coltrane tunes and making the audience reminiscent of the past. “We decided that the best way to truly honor their work was to create our own new way of looking at the compositions, to allow new freedoms within the structures and provoke spontaneity within the group,” Hancock said on his Web site. “We’re not just playing the original chords of these pieces, but really moving beyond that.” “The Sorcerer” is a Hancock composition from his days in the Davis quintet. “The Poet” is a tune that Hargrove wrote in tribute to that very quintet, and it features a nice echo effect in the melody with trumpet leading and Brecker following right behind on sax. “So What” and “Impressions” are Davis and Coltrane tunes, respectively, that share the same harmonic structure. The Directions … group combines them into one track, changing the articulation of the melody to “Impressions” and taking it at an unconventionally slow tempo. Hancock, Brecker and Hargrove all contributed to the writing of “Misstery.” Brecker performs a seven and a half minute interpretation of Coltrane’s “Naima” completely unaccompanied. “Transition,” a Coltrane tune, and “My Ship,” a Kurt Weill and Ira Gershwin tune that Davis was known to perform, are also visited. The disc concludes with “D Trane,” a Brecker composition that is dedicated to Coltrane and reflects on Coltrane’s compositions that were influenced by African music.The playing on Directions … is brilliant all around. With the exception of Brecker, whose tone can be somewhat annoying at times, the entire disc is a treat to listen to. It seems that an obvious choice for this group would have been Wayne Shorter on sax as opposed to Brecker. Perhaps Hancock felt that with the inclusion of both Shorter and himself the group would be too similar to the old Davis quintet. Perhaps he felt that Brecker’s style exhibited more of a Coltrane influence than Shorter’s. Either way, this discrepancy shouldn’t be significant enough to deter you from picking up this record.Directions … won the 2003 Grammy Award for Best Jazz Instrumental Album and Herbie Hancock won the 2003 Grammy Award for Best Jazz Instrumental Solo for his solo on “My Ship.”

Contact Christopher Kepner at ckepner@nd.edu