By Wes Eichenwald
Special to the American-Statesman
When two venerable artistic institutions join forces for the first time, most would agree that it qualifies as a capital-E Event of some note. Judging from the studio audience’s response to the tight 90-minute set from Herbie Hancock’s quartet Thursday night – Hancock’s “Austin City Limits” debut – that was definitely the case.
Introducing his band after the opening number (“Overture”), Hancock said, “We like to go a little crazy up here sometimes, so bear with us.” In fact, the show, which was livestreamed on ACLTV’s YouTube channel, was on the whole a classic demonstration of muscular, percussive, propulsive ‘60s and ‘70s-rooted jazz along the axis of Coltrane and Tyner – and, yes, Hancock’s old boss Miles Davis.
At 77, Hancock – trim, fully invested in the music and clearly in charge – seemed as ageless as the six numbers from various points in his long career that he’d selected for the evening.
Hancock, seated at an electric piano at stage right, and his seasoned band – drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, bassist James Genus, and Terrace Martin on alto sax and keyboards – ably performed the trick of getting a late-night vibe going by 8:10 p.m., about five minutes into the proceedings, with Genus taking the early lead with rapid-fire runs and Hancock easily sparring back. Occasional synth-funk and drone in the mix insinuated a sci-fi feel but were more a side dish to the classic, crowd-pleasing main course.
Both Genus, who also plays in the “Saturday Night Live” band, and former child prodigy Martin, who’s perhaps better known as a producer – in fact, he’s producing a forthcoming Hancock album – could easily lead their own combos. Martin’s sax occasionally ventured into smooth-jazz territory, but Hancock’s fine-tuned band never lost track of the framework. “Come Running to Me,” from Hancock’s 1978 album “Sunlight,” with its Vocoder space-age filigrees, segued seamlessly into “Secret Source,” a newer composition but no less characteristic of the keyboardist, with notable alpha-musician runs from Martin.
The quartet then took on “Cantaloupe Island” (from Hancock’s 1976 jazz-funk fusion album “Secrets”). By the encore, the funk classic “Chameleon,” the crowd was on its feet and Hancock, strapping on his keytar, took center stage at last, as if to remind everyone just who the star of the evening was, though no reminder was needed. At the end he did a little celebratory dance with Genus on stage, and then it was 9:30, done and done.
“Come Running to Me”