I had convinced myself that one day, jazz icon Herbie Hancock would return to making the kind of jazz music he made decades ago. I pictured him producing new classics in the vein of “Takin’ Off,” “My Point Of View,” “Maiden Voyage” and “Cantaloupe Island”. And on this cool Friday evening at the Chase Stage concluding the opening day the Detroit International Jazz Festival, I was hopeful that he would perform at least a few of his jazz standards.

Instead, Hancock delivered a bunch of fused-together electronic funk music that was so hard to listen to that by the third number, I had a pounding headache. Yes, the talkative pianist had the crowd eating out of his hands from the get-go, switching from the acoustic piano to the electric keyboards all set long, displaying the type of energy and enthusiasm that a child locked in a room filled with toys might display. He sounded best wailing away on the acoustic piano, demonstrating (to at least me) that his hard-bop chops are stronger than ever. But for my money, there wasn’t nearly enough of this sort of playing.

His worst offense came during the middle of his set when Hancock and his bandmates destroyed Stevie Wonder's classic “I Just Called To Says I Love You.” Then he performed a number that he recorded with Christina Aguilera. At this point, I had to ask myself "What respectable jazz musician would collaborate with that kind of modern pop singer and then have the gall?" to brag proudly about it. Well, Hancock did exactly that...and I will never forgive him for it. I know that once jazz artists get a taste of the good life, it's hard for them to return to their musical roots, but still...

In all fairness, Hancock's set wasn't an absolute bust. There were indeed several bright moments. The pianist played a solo number that was an amalgamation of avant-garde, classical and vintage jazz music pieced together beautifully. It was the coolest thing that he had played all evening. But then he returned to his electronic bag, which totally ruined the mood.

But just when I was ready to leave, Hancock broke out with one of the hippest versions of his classic “Cantaloupe Island” I've ever heard. Before I could get my hopes up any higher, though, assuming that he would continue in this fashion, he went back into his electronic funk thing. I finally decided that "fooling around" with all those electronic gadgets must be where the musician is at his most comfortable these days. Ultimately, however, Hancock is no longer the first-class jazz musicians he used to be... and judging from tonight's performance, he probably never will be ever again.

Herbie and Christina at the Grammys: Something to brag about?


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