An enthusiastic Kennedy Center audience experienced an energetic performance from Herbie Hancock last week at the Kennedy Center. The concert was the first stop on a two-and-a-half-month tour featuring acclaimed trumpeter Terence Blanchard, “Saturday Night Live” bassist James Genus, Hancock mentee, guitarist and vocalist Lionel Loueke from Benin, Africa and Berklee College of Music alumnus drummer Justin Tyson.
Before the group hit the stage, I noticed Hancock’s set up of five to six types of keyboards, including an acoustic baby grand and a keytar, which is a keyboard that goes around your neck and shoulder. He also incorporated the vocoder, which takes the voice into a semi-singing instrument for music. It made sense for this octogenarian to have all his “tools” with him because he has composed lots of music in his lifetime. With 14 Grammys and a Kennedy Center Honor, Hancock has been successful because he knows how to collaborate effectively with other great musical talents. They all have the same goal of perfection.
Satisfying my soul during the concert, I heard snippets of “Butterfly” and “Speak Like a Child,” two of my favorite Hancock compositions reimagined through electronic jazz-funk chords. “Actual Proof” from the “Thrust” album and “Come Running to Me” from the “Sunlight” album were performed in full effect.
I last saw Hancock perform in 2018 when Genus and Loueke were a part of that tour. Tyson is the “baby” of the group on this tour. Then Hancock began introducing Blanchard.
“Now on trumpet,” Hancock said, then the audience erupted with applause. “Oh, you already introduced yourself.”
In a brief interview with Blanchard, I was surprised to learn that he had not worked with Hancock very much.
“Last time I did a tour with him was actually when Obama was elected,” Blanchard said. “This is a good chance for me to get back and reconnect.”
Reconnect they did. During the concert, Hancock introduced the jazz standard “Footprints,” composed by his best friend, Wayne Shorter. The version we heard was a Blanchard arrangement. In addition to touring with Hancock, the trumpeter is still riding high from his successful September 2021 Metropolitan Opera premiere of “Fire Shut Up In My Bones,” the operatic adaptation of Charles Blow’s autobiography. During this concert, Hancock praised Blanchard for his 50 film scores and his work on another score while the band was on tour.
“‘The Woman King’ with Viola Davis is the score in the works,” Blanchard shared.
All that talent on stage took the audience to new heights during the encore of “Chameleon.” Hancock moved around on stage with the keytar while dueling in chord exchanges with bandmates. Blanchard summed up what we all felt.
“We were having a lot of fun,” Blanchard said.