“Coming up next is a piano player that you may know. Give him a chance; be nice and give him some love.” That’s how musician Robert Glasper -- frontman for R+R = Now -- playfully introduced icon Herbie Hancock on Wednesday evening. The occasion? Hancock’s headlining gig at the Hollywood Bowl.
Part throwback to Hancock’s illustrious career and part paying it forward, “Herbie Hancock: Next Generation” opened with R+R=Now. Then during his 90-minute set, Hancock showcased additional next-gen artists such as bassist Thundercat, saxophonist Kamasi Washington and two newcomers: singer-rapper-multi-instrumentalist Phoelix and flutist-vocalist Elena Pinderhughes.
Referencing the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, Hancock told the Bowl audience at the outset, “Get ready to put your astronaut caps on. Let’s go beyond that, OK?” At which point, Hancock and crew -- drummer Vinnie Colaluta, bassist James Genus, guitarist Lionel Loueke and keyboardist/saxophonist Terrace Martin -- launched into an ethereal, soaring instrumental track that Hancock called the “Overture.”
From there, the group segued into “Actual Proof,” a track from Hancock’s pivotal fusion album, 1973’s Head Hunters. Like early mentor Miles Davis, who had an ear for recognizing talented musicians, Hancock spent the next portion of the concert showcasing younger talent that’s on the come-up. Pinderhughes’ sweet vocals and skilled flute playing graced the song “R.I.P.” Thundercat, garbed in a knee-length black jersey and cat ears poking through his red-orange dreads, got the crowd going with a boisterous performance of his “Them Changes.” Both Pinderhughes and Phoelix joined Washington on “To Be Honest,” visibly enjoying themselves as they held their own onstage with Hancock and his tight quartet.
In fact, the onstage camaraderie between the indefatigable Hancock -- whose keyboard wizardry still mesmerizes -- and the band (all accomplished players in their own right) brought an extra depth to the performances. Not surprisingly, the biggest audience response was for two of Hancock’s signature songs as he brought the show to a close: 1964’s “Canteloupe Island” (featuring Glasper) and another Head Hunters classic “Chameleon.” The latter sparked a rollicking all-star jam session featuring Hancock, his band and the evening’s special guests.
R+R=Now set the tone for the evening. In addition to frontman Glasper, the supergroup of musicians includes bassist Derrick Hodge, drummer Justin Tyson, Taylor McFerrin on synthesizer/beats, trumpeter Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah and the aforementioned Martin on saxophone and vocoder. Regaling the audience as well with its crisp, intuitive musicianship, R+R=Now performed cuts from its 2018 album Collagically Speaking as well as intriguing takes such as Hodges’ cover of The Beatles’ “Something.”
Hancock’s next performance, with guests Washington and Glasper, takes place Friday at the Greek Theatre at Northern California's U.C. Berkeley