Herbie Hancock Takes a Stand with Power to the People! at Disney Concert Hall "People have power that they don't realize." - Herbie Hancock
LOS ANGELES, CA- The air is electric on March 5th at the Frank Gehry designed Disney Concert Hall in Downtown Los Angeles as Herbie Hancock joins the Los Angeles Philharmonic as part of their month-long Power to the People! festival. Casting an eye and ear on humanitarian ethics, the festival shines light on how change can happen when people care to raise their voices in unison. “I was thinking about that phrase Power to the People, and actually maybe it should evolve into Power FROM the People,” Herbie Hancock, dressed in all black, except for a bright red pair of sneakers tell the sold-out crowd. “People have power that they don’t realize.“
The night begins in the lobby, where despite the fear of Coronavirus, with many wearing face masks, people are collectively brought together for the love of music. A Power to the People! table registers voters and free buttons are handed out to celebrate and encourage voting. As the concert hall’s bell signals the start of the show, we find our way to our plush seats as acclaimed Los Angeles Philharmonic conductor Gustavo Dudamel leads the orchestra into Banner, an 8-minute piece written by Jessie Montgomery, a young female composer who weaves classical music with the vernacular, speaking out on social justice. The composition is a tribute to the 200th anniversary of The Star-Spangled Banner, interlacing multi-cultural world anthems and folk songs, featuring a loose rhythmic marching band structure with a solo string quartet and large brass sound. The mood is grand, eloquent and outspoken, a perfect beginning to an evening observing liberty and the importance of the contributions of American immigrants. It is an example of the gifts immigrants bring to this country, which ultimately becomes part of who we are as a nation. The next piece, White Gleam of Our Bright Stars, composed by New Orleans native Courtney Bryan, is inspired by freedom and equality, the title taken from a phrase in the song Lift Every Voice and Sing. The mood brought on by the Philharmonic is inspirational, uplifting and forward-looking, using woodwinds, brass, drums, and strings to create drama and cohesion.
The night continues with Aurora, composed by Wayne Shorter, who famously played saxophone with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, went on to work with Miles Davis, performing on the important album Bitches Brewand co-founded the band, Weather Report. The piece, rich in harmonic symphony, yet composed of sideline melodies inspired by Shorter’s sax expertise, features the gorgeous operatic vocals of Mikaela Bennet, who takes the powerful writing of Maya Angelou and channels it loudly with beauty, passion and care. Her vocals carried majestic strength which not only felt emancipating but also straight from the soul.
“We can make this world better than what everybody’s experiencing now. We’re working on it. Aren’t we all working on it? We did one part of the process- we voted.” – Herbie Hancock, Power to the People!, Disney Concert Hall
After a brief intermission, Herbie Hancock joins the Philharmonic on piano to play Ostinato: Suite for Angela, a song he wrote in 1970 dedicated to black power political activist Angela Davis, who was imprisoned at that time. With the force of the orchestra, the song explodes with strength while still keeping the foundation of its funky jazz interplay. The music is lively, danceable, potent and hopeful. It closes with a spoken-word monologue from Davis beginning with, “I see us expanding the terrain of freedom” and looks optimistically to the future. This is followed by I Have a Dream, an 11-minute song Hancock released in 1969 in tribute to Martin Luther King. It is light, jazzy, bright and spacious, with Hancock’s jazzy piano taking the lead and carrying the orchestra into broad, open territory, enlightening, positive and expansive.
The lights dim as the Los Angeles Philharmonic leaves the stage. The next 45-minutes will be Herbie Hancock and his band- Vinnie Colaiuta, drums, James Genus, bass, Lionel Loueke, guitar/vocals and Terrance Martin, keyboards/sax. Hancock starts with an introduction, explaining Power to the People!, its significance to the ’60s and ’70s and its importance to now. He tells us “Pretty soon we’re gonna run out of things to take. You don’t run out of things to give… This thing that we all call heart, that’s what replenishes us.” He then asks the audience if we are ready to party. We are. So he gets down to jazzy, otherworldly business, “Let’s visit the universe. Technically a nice trip.” The music is space-age, electronic and filled with echoes, leaving the audience with a somber, melancholic feeling, with a dangerous clamor of drums. It opens up to a lighter, brighter place, led by saxophone, and winding its way between darkness and light. For the next 45- minutes Hancock leads us into ethereal realms, switching between piano, keyboard and a strapped on keyboard, carried like a guitar. His band is funky and tight, letting loose within the perimeters of music, but holding onto the central space-themed idea, which seems to be the main exploration. Drummer Colaiuta gives it his all, making a dynamic impression, while Loueke, on electronically enhanced vocals, adds to the mystical journey.
The night ends as it began, with a bright optimism looking toward the future, but with a foreboding caution lurking in the distance. The inspiration of Power to the People! will hopefully guide us to take action, to look askance at the troubles this world now faces and take a stance in the name of hope.