Herbie Hancock’s Unreal ACL Taping

Jazz immortal debuts on PBS concert staple

Planet Earth acknowledged long ago that Herbie Hancock is a critical entry in global culture, let alone music. Still, to physically witness true genius at the top of its game over 50 years in is a life-affirming excursion like few others. Surely bucket lists were checked off Thursday night at the Moody Theater during an electric Austin City Limits taping.

Herbie Hancock, ACL Live at the Moody Theater, 10.12.17 (Photo by Gary Miller)

Watching the audience cycle through rapt joy as the 77-year-old former classical music prodigy rained down bolts of virtuosity while marking his debut on the longest-running live concert forum now in its 43rd season proved its own spectacle.

Fourteen-time Grammy-winner and Academy Award recipient, the Chicago-born, avant-garde keyboardist took a packed house back to the future via his illustrious jazz fusion past – itself a pioneering and immortal admixture of aural gymnastics – with the imminent sounds of a burgeoning idol on the cusp. In his quartet were familiar faces, including Hall of Fame drummer Vincent Colaiuta and current Saturday Night Live bassist James Genus.

In an illuminating six-song, 80-minute set, Hancock commenced celestial, running down his personal voodoo beginning with a booming, blown-up take on Gershwin’s “Overture,” from 1998’s Gershwin’s World, his 42nd album. On “Actual Proof,” found on 1973’s Thrust, the bandleader opened with funky, clanging keys, then gave way to Genus’ righteous bassline atop Colaiuta’s studied and steady dynamics.

Throughout, talented saxophone player and multi-hyphenate Terrace Martin, the fourth and youngest member of the foursome – whom Hancock informed is currently producing his next album – took the improvisational fireworks up another notch, or several. Cut from the same creative loom, he’s nearly 40 years younger than Hancock, and yet their playful chemistry in interlocking patterning attenuates any differences.

The set’s best offering, smooth jazz/R&B ringer “Come Running to Me,” off 1978’s Sunlight, brought out the best in each player. Hancock’s legendary vocoder talents debuted, with him and Martin double-timing the cooing chorus: “Running to me, baby come running to me.”

Composed during his years with Miles Davis’ second great quintet in the Sixties, “Cantaloupe Island” hit prime Hancock, who toggled back and forth between his baby grand piano and Korg Kronos synth – playing both simultaneously. To close, he even brought out his white keytar, awaiting the call on its dedicated stand like a digital Excalibur.

Mind you, Herbie Hancock is the only living human who looks cool rocking one.

The band encored with an accomplished, energetic rendition of “Chameleon,” from his heavy, jazz-funk Head Hunters era. Chunky keyboard stabs and bass plucks just as full as they were likely imagined at inception teamed Hancock and Colaiuta’s pounding kick drums to close an unreal performance with a decadent flourish.

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Herbie Hancock, Miles Davis, George Gershwin, Vincent Colaiuta, Saturday Night Live, James Genus, Terrace Martin, Head Hunters, Cantaloupe Island

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