Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Good Intentions: Herbie Hancock's The Imagine Project

Herbie Hancock is one of my musical heroes because he’s constantly trying new things and takes none of his talent for playing, writing and arranging for granted. His latest effort is The Imagine Project which is, as he describes it, “an effort to show the power and beauty of global collaboration as a golden path to peace.” This is a well-intentioned album with some successes and failures.

The opening track is John Lennon’s iconic song adapted to a world - beat arrangement, but the vocal track fails to be inspiring let alone take you to that idyllic place that Lennon wrote about back in 1971. Some songs never work well when they’re re-configured; this is one of them. Interestingly, a Beatles song, “Tomorrow Never Knows,” is also included. Performed by Dave Matthews, with the requisite phased-vocal track, I wondered why this song was chosen in the first place. "T.N.K." never had the notion of a “path to peace” for me; more of quiet trip to another, other worldly place after death. (The lyrics are taken from the Tibetan Book of the Dead.)

It’s important to point out that this record wasn’t produced in one sitting or in one location. It was done, through the magic of digital technology, piece-by-piece with contributions from such artists as The Chieftains, Tinariwen, Los Lobos, and Pink. This fact is given away by the listing of every studio used during the recording process in the liner notes. Consequently, while the record is seamlessly mastered, some songs are much better than others. This is particularly the case for the strongest song on the album, “Space Captain,” featuring Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks. This song, which features a gospel choir, was recorded in one place at one time in Florida. It truly stands out as inspired and joyful.

On the other hand, Bob Dylan’s “The Times, They Are a-Changin'” fails because nobody knows what the song means and how it should be arranged. Recorded in four different locations, it’s a construct and it sounds like it. Nevertheless, the Latin-tinged songs work best for their simplicity and Herbie’s delicate piano lines especially on “Tempo De Amor” and “La Tierra.” These grooves are right in the pocket with some great work from Vinnie Colaiuta on drums. Herbie is on tour this summer with The Imagine Project, which is perhaps the preferable way to hear him.

-- John Corcelli is a musician, actor, broadcaster and theatre director.

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