Last night, legendary Jazz pianist/keyboardist/godfather Herbie Hancock brought a unique band and some incredible opening acts with him to the Celebrate Brooklyn! concert series at the Prospect Park Bandshell. The show, which was organized by This Is Our Music and LPR Presents, featured a heavy-hitting opening lineup of soul musician Jamie Lidell and the electro-r&b of the Robert Glasper Experiment, and found Hancock performing a headlining set in Brooklyn for the first time in 50 years.
After a short but intense downpour delayed the opening of doors for a few minutes, the crowd was allowed inside the venue for a mini set by Jamie Lidell. The British crooner, who was playing his only U.S. tour date for the forseeable future, is supporting a new forthcoming album called Building a Beginning, which will be released on October 14th.
The real fireworks started when the Robert Glasper Experiment took the stage. The band, made up of Glasper on piano and keys, Derrick Hodge on bass, Casey Benjamin on saxophone, keytar, and vocoder, and Mark Colenburg on drums, took the audience on a quick trip to space via their unique blend of jazz fusion, hip-hop, and r&b. This band is one of the best improv outfits on the planet, and their set weaves between original tracks, unique and unexpected covers, and a healthy dose of full-band improvisation. The band unfortunately had to cut a few minutes from their set due to the rain delay, but made up for it in kind with an epic set-closing tribute to J. Dilla, during which Glasper surprised the audience by bringing out Bilal and Common to sing and spit a few bars, respectively. The collaboration felt very “Brooklyn”, and was a perfect fit for the larger-than-usual audience the Experiment were afforded.
Finally, Herbie Hancock, the master, took the stage with his impressive band. The players in his band were a who’s who of modern jazz greats: James Genus from the Saturday Night Live house band on bass, West African legend Lionel Loueke on guitar, famed session drummer Trevor Lawrence Jr., and To Pimp A Butterfly mastermind and multi-instrumentalist Terrace Martin on keyboards, vocoder, and saxophone.
The band was hot right out of the gates, opening with the uptempo 1974 jazz fusion track “Actual Proof”. The crowd was entranced by the virtuosity of the band, as they whipped from one idea to the other as the band worked themselves through the tune. After Hancock took a few minutes to introduce the band members to the audience, they launched into a winding version of “Overture” that featured impressive playing from Lawrence, as he picked up the rhythm of the jam and built it up until the song’s epic climax.
Hancock followed that up with his classic “Watermelon Man”, and the funky track was met with huge applause from the enraptured audience. Loueke then led the band through a Afrobeat-tinged version of “Come Running To Me”, which featured some impressive soloing on the keytar from Hancock. Finally, things came to a close with a danceable version of “Cantaloupe Island” that saw Hancock and his band trading licks with ease.
After a short break, the band returned to the stage for a synthed-out performance of Hancock’s best known song, “Chameleon”. The crowd went absolutely crazy for the track, and Hancock picked up the keytar again for a wild solo that was the perfect exclamation mark to cap off an excellent evening in Prospect Park.
In the end, it was a truly amazing night in Brooklyn. Usually relegated to small clubs and festival appearances, it was amazing to see a show of jazz legends with thousands of other people in one of New York City’s most reliable cultural centers. The Robert Glasper Experiment and Herbie Hancock both put on incredible shows filled with improv and experimentation, and the crowd absolutely ate it up. We hope it doesn’t take another 50 years for Herbie to return to Brooklyn!
Herbie Hancock | Celebrate Brooklyn! | Prospect Park Band Shell | 8/11/2016
Set One: Actual Proof, Overture, Watermelon Man, Come Running To Me, Cantaloupe Island
[photo via @briccelebratebk]