The pianist and composer represents the epitome of that bit of jazz wisdom: never state the obvious. To hear a Herbie Hancock chord is to hear a combination of notes that makes the brows rise with interest and surprise.
He was doing it in Miles Davis’s second great quintet in the 1960s, and he was doing it on Thursday evening at Symphony Hall.
The large and enthusiastic crowd had a chance to hear many such chords in quiet succession in a solo segment at the centre of the band’s generous uninterrupted set. Here was the source of the predominant jazz piano style of the last 50 years. Herbie applies other jazz rules, too: don’t repeat yourself, and make sure you surround yourself with the best, most challenging players.
The band might have played some familiar tunes – Speak Like A Child, Canteloupe Island, Chameleon – but they were all radically reworked; the instrumental line-up might have been mostly familiar – guitar, trumpet, bass, drums with the wild card of harmonica – but the way they interacted and the textures they created, especially on the Wayne Shorter composition V, were revelatory. The inclusion of Swiss harmonica virtuoso Gregoire Maret and Beninese guitarist/singer Lionel Loueke added fresh sounds and eclectic influences.
The band members were given generous solo spots. While Loueke’s and bassist James Genus’s use of loops to give themselves multiple voices was impressive, I am not sure that its musical interest outweighed its flashiness.
Trumpeter Terence Blanchard used electronics too, but in a way that never placed medium before message.
The sound was the best amplified jazz I’ve heard in Symphony Hall, and the sight of Herbie, portable keyboard slung over shoulder while dishing out the funk on Chameleon, was a treat.