At the Hollywood Bowl: Esperanza’s Sweet Sounds, Hancock’s Suite Celebration of Peace
by Joy Childs
Special to the NNPA from the Los Angeles Sentinel
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 evencompete 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, alternatedbetween 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 inunison 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 isher 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 hergeneration.
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: longtimecollaborator 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 smalldifferent 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 overthe 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 internationalmusic 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.