Last Night Herbie Hancock @ Woodland Park Zoo
posted by June 21 at 11:26 AMon
Hard not to appreciate a jazz legend playing outdoors on a gorgeous day. Herbie Hancock and his trio came to Fremont’s Woodland Park Zoo and flexed prodigious badassitude, playing up almost every angle of Hancock’s long and varied career and even diverging into some new directions. Accompanied by a blanket full of friends and a picnic basket filled with tasty snacks and good wine (be smart and you can enjoy your own booze and avoid sequesterment in the beer garden), yesterday’s show was about as blissed-out, musically and socially, as you can get on a Wednesday.
Herbie started off with the mellow fusion number “Butterfly” from his 1995 album Dis is Da Drum, moving from piano to keyboard and back again as the song demanded. This is a guy that I’ve seen crank out electro-funk and sublime balladry with equal skill; “Butterfly” prevented any whiplash effect. His band, consisting of Nathan East on bass, Vinnie Colaiuta on drums, and Lionel Loueke on guitar, breezed from tight and subtle to full-figured and loose. Next up was “Watermelon Man,” where Herbie chanted the glass-bottle parts himself, as the band drifted into the song’s sunny funk groove. He was up in front of the stage with a keytar (!) for the midsection of the song, coaxing some ridiculous sounds from the thing.
Between each number, Herbie would step out from behind the piano to engage the crowd, as casual and cool as if speaking in his living room (turns out much of his family was on hand). The band played a couple numbers penned by guitarist Loueke as well as one by bassist East; here they went from sizzle to simmer on a watery blues number that surely pleased the Gator-shod 40-somethings that comprised the majority of the crowd (Herbie’s mention of John Mayer, once part of his touring band, got quite a reaction).
With the rest of the band off-stage, Western African guitarist Loueke busted out some phenomenal finger-tap guitar blended over looped vocal chants. It was a crazy Afro-electro freakout, especially the end of the solo, with Loueke in full spazz-out mode, that countered the preceding AOR blues nicely. As did the close of “Virgin Forest,” a more straight-ahead number with Herbie on grand piano that ended with a phenomenal drums-and-piano groove.
A quiet “Maiden Voyage,” with Herbie solo on piano, was pretty much lost among the babble of a zillion sugar-high rugrats going haywire all over the lawn. The one word of warning about these gigs: Kids under 12 are free, so bring your tolerance to children and parents or it’ll be hard to enjoy the show.
But “Cantaloupe Island” closed the show out with a wonderfully familiar tropical groove. And Herbie fooled the crowd into thinking it was his last song by naming the band, thanking the audience, and delivering what seemed like his closing remarks. As everyone rose to leave—the sun having slunk below the trees and the shadows growing long—he charged into “Chameleon,” one of his funkiest numbers. With everyone on their feet, it was natural to start dancing, and the whole lawn was shimmying to the classically funky bassline. Herbie stretched it out—he seemed to stop the song twice before moving on—and it was at least a 15-minute, multi-part mini-concerto of one of his most beloved tunes. Then it was over, and it was 8:15, and it was still completely light outside. The rest of the night beckoned.