Herbie Hancock Gavin Radio Seminar, Atlanta

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The Independent Online
Although the acknowledgements on the sleeve of his new CD include a "special thanks" to a limousine service, Herbie's band is far too expensive to take on the road. Jack DeJohnette, Dave Holland, Michael Brecker and John Scofield were therefore air-freighted in for a showcase gig at the Gavin Radio Seminar, Atlanta, Georgia, a music-biz convention where gangsta- rappers mixed with Italian-American gents in sharp suits, and the keynote speech was delivered by Rupert Murdoch.

The performance was preceded by "an American music one-on-one", with Hancock answering questions about the album The New Standard (Verve), whose tunes were composed by Don Henley, Peter Gabriel, Prince, Stevie Wonder, Sade and other, in Herbie's words, "great jazz writers, heh, heh, heh!" The album's concept is a simple one; can pop songs be made as jazz- friendly as the show tunes of the Twenties and Thirties? "I wasn't trying to define what new standards are," Hancock said, "but to choose new songs and treat them like the old standards." In fact, as it soon became clear, Herbie didn't choose the tunes, his producer did, and he was less than complimentary about them. After performing Don Henley's "New York Minute" he paused and said: "Those weren't the original chords - but I guess you noticed that," and, as he tinkled the notes of "Mercy Street" with one hand he dead-panned: "Quite a melody, huh?"

What the tunes did provoke, of course, was a mighty blowing session, with the superstar band abandoning the original themes and chords in favour of generic post-bop changes. The lack of respect for the material only served to heighten the invention of the improvisations and each song became, in true jazz standard tradition, the vehicle for a jam session. Prince's "Thieves in the Temple" was stripped down to bare-bones funk and re-assembled into a feature for Brecker's heroically honking sax and Scofield's scatter-shot guitar blues.

Despite the doubtful concept, it was one of the great jazz performances. All it lacked was a few decent tunes. After the gig the word was that the band had enjoyed it so much that they might even shave their percentages enough to make going on the road worthwhile. But until they do, and if you really want to hear a jazz version of Kurt Cobain's "All Apologies", you'll have to buy the album.

PHIL JOHNSON

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