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Herbie Hancock (AP Photo/Lionel Cironneau)
Esperanza Spalding (AP Photo/Amy Sancetta, file)
When bass-master-meister Larry <Graham> was asked at the Long Beach Jazz Festival, “<Who>’s out <there> <that> you really <like> these days?” his response: Esperanza Spalding. Of course, the 27-year-old from Portland, OR, can’t even compete with his royal funkiness. But the young bassist/vocalist/composer continued to make <her> mark <in> <her> fourth appearance at the Hollywood Bowl on Aug. 22, opening for Anita Baker.
From funk to blues to <hip-hop>, the 2011 Grammy winner for Best New Artist showcased the diverse influences <that> have resulted <in> multifarious musical landscapes <traveled>.
Most songs were from Spalding’s latest release, “Radio <Music> Society.” This night she had an 11-piece band consisting of blaring rhythm and horn sections. The petite musician, <whose> tiny frame is smaller than <her> instrument, alternated <between> electric bass and upright, the latter being the one on <which> she truly displayed <her> expertise, <as> on “Hold on <Me.>” The song found <her> singing <in> unison and <in> harmony with the upright, <her> voice a combination of lightness and air `a la French jazz scatting.
After verbalizing an homage to one of <her> musical <heroes>, saxophonist Wayne Shorter, Spalding launched <into> Shorter’s “Endangered <Species>,” <which> was the only straight<-up>, straight-ahead jazz number she did <that> night. But it was Igmar Thomas’ trumpet solo <that> became one of the best of <her> set.
Spalding’s musical tastes and styles may seem eclectic, but <there> are always elements of jazz, <R&B> and rock <that> only a brilliant bassist such as Spalding could pull off and make sound familiar. And so it is with <her> vocal talents: Beyond <her> exceptional playing, you have to appreciate <her> singing capabilities: Her voice, all sweetness and <light>, soared high, then higher <into> the octaves on “Crowned and Kissed.”
On <her> set closer, “Radio Song,” <which> she prefaced by saying <that> the song is <her> personal cry for more airtime for jazz on radio, Spalding’s vocals and electric bass lines result <in> some head-boppin’ funk.
Larry <Graham> was right to identify <her> <as> one of the breakout stars of <her> generation.
One week later, the <Los Angeles> Philharmonic’s Creative Chair for Jazz, Herbie Hancock, took center stage and did what’s come to be <expected> of him: something new and <different><.>
If you’ve never heard of Grégoire Maret, <who> opened for Hancock, he’s touted to be the next Toots Thielemans/Stevie Wonder<.> A truly stunningly gifted player, Maret’s <unique> style of play on the harmonica surprised and amazed.
This time, it came <in> the form of eight superstar performer friends: <longtime> collaborator and friend Wayne Shorter; rock guitarist Carlos Santana and his drummer wife (<since> 2010) Cindy Blackman Santana; bassists Marcus Miller and Dave Holland; George Whitty, keyboards; Kalil Wilson and Andy Vargas on vocals; and tabla player Zakir Hussain<.> [<Note>: The table is a pair of small <different> sized-hand drums used <in> <East> Indian <music>.]
With Hancock on <piano>/keyboards/synthesizers, the friends were “Celebrating Peace.”
<Their> set opened with what quickly became a <suite> of the first several tunes, this one a very melancholy collection of ethereal sounds of “Ode to Joy” played <over> the sampling of a Martin Luther <King> speech about <justice> <that> eventually, <suite><-like>, merged <into> an East Indian-sounding “Afro Blue,” written by Mongo Santamaria and famously recorded by John Coltrane. Hancock’s synthesizer licks and Santana’s rock licks were arm in arm in unison on the piece, while Hussain’s tabla popped in place.
Next it was Hancock on vocoder synthesizer, <like> the kind he revolutionized during his late 1970s jazz fusion days, this time on “Sonrisa,” the tune calling for Shorter to riff for short periods on soprano sax and for spectacular solos by Holland and Miller. Miller’s back and forth with drummer Blackman Santana brought the funk to the fore on Hancock’s “Dis Is Da Drum.” With a keytar [i.e., a combination keyboard and guitar) in hand and on shoulder, Hancock was free to rock around the stage while Santana band member Andy Vargas took on vocal duties.
The ‘<suite>’ ended when “Ponta De Areia,” with Santana playing his butt off with legendary Latin jazz/rock solos, followed by Hancock and Holland.
Wisely, Hancock made few announcements, letting the international <music> elements speak for themselves. “For peace!” Hancock shouted after “Novus,” the engaging Santana tune sung by Wilson <that> ended the night<.>
Ever exploring, stretching musical boundaries internationally, Herbie Hancock remains the single most important <celebrant> of peace through <music> today.