Herbie Hancock: The Imagine Project

RIYL: Santana’s Shaman and Supernatural, Anoushka  Shankar’s Breathing Underwater,  WOMAD label artists

On the surface, one might conclude that Herbie Hancock’s current release, The Imaging Project, is a Johnny-come-lately effort that builds on the model Carlos Santana rode to great success on Supernatural and Shaman.  That is to say, call in a diverse group of popular artists and have them record songs that infuse their styles with the dominant musical character of bandleader. Hancock and company certainly attempt that, but Mr. Hancock has grander designs other than just creating a hit record.  The Imagine Project is, according to Hancock, part of a global outreach strategy featuring musicians from various corners of the world to foster a kind of globalization that emphasizes mutual respect rather than a top-down cultural dominance emanating from U.S. to the rest of the world.  Does Hancock succeed in his ambitions?  At times he does, but at other times the record sounds like bland smooth jazz that never rises above level of innocuous background music for worker bees in office buildings.

The most interesting tracks (and ones that reach Hancock’s ambitions on this album) are tucked in the middle and end of the CD.  “The Song Goes On” featuring Chaka Khan and Wayne Shorter – and some blistering sitar playing by Anoushka Shankar – demonstrates what I think Hancock had in mind for this album (the same goes for “Tempo De Amor,” “La Tierra,” and “Tamatant Tilay/Exodus”). Alas, there are some real duds that take away from the potential grandness of the project.  “Tomorrow Never Knows” featuring Dave Matthews is as pointless of a cover as it is boring. “Imagine” gets bogged down in pomposity and relegates Jeff Beck to playing a solo that could have been done by any good musician with about a year’s worth of guitar lessons.  And only Pink saves “Don’t Give Up” from becoming a milquetoast cover of the Peter Gabriel/Kate Bush original.

The Imagine Project is not a horrible record by any stretch, but it continually falls short on both fusing various musical styles and finding new wine from the old wineskins of classic songs. However, when it shines (as it does at times), the music does transcend geographic boarders to create a fusion that lives up to Hancock’s stated goal for this record.  (Hancock Records 2010)

Herbie Hancock’s website
Click to buy The Imagine Project from Amazon


Seal: Soul

Seal once famously advised us that we were never gonna survive unless we got a little crazy, and it looks like he may have been right, because few things are crazier than a slowly dying label footing the bill for David Foster to produce an album of hoary old soul chestnuts covered by Mr. Heidi Klum – and yet that’s exactly what Warner Bros. has gone and paid for with the erroneously titled Soul. It actually does make a certain amount of sense, given that Rod Stewart and Barry Manilow have recently topped the charts with their own moldy covers discs, but Seal’s Soul (try saying that 10 times fast) is a case of lost potential: Although Seal’s vocals are as fine as ever, Foster’s enervating production turns everything into dinner music – yes, even “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World” and “Knock on Wood.” Aside from Chinese Democracy, this is the most expensive-sounding album you’re liable to hear for the rest of the year, but nobody got their money’s worth – not the label, not the songwriters who will reap royalties for more unnecessary covers of these songs, and certainly not anyone who purchases this disc in hopes that it’ll live up to its title’s promise. Base familiarity seems to be the last failsafe path to sales for the foundering major labels, and Soul may very well find an audience with the same QVC-shopping shut-ins who lapped up Stewart and Manilow’s albums, but anyone who’s heard the original versions of these tracks should know better. (Warner Bros. 2008)

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