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Herbie Hancock, Michael Brecker, Roy Hargrove
Directions In Music
(Celebrating Miles Davis and John Coltrane)  

Review by Jim Merod
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Herbie Hancock, Michael Brecker, Roy Hargrove  Directions In Music (Celebrating Miles Davis and John Coltrane)

CD Stock Number: Verve 314 589 654-2


  Most jazz lovers know that a remarkable concert took place at Toronto's Massey Hall in May, 1953. Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie put hell, fire and brimstone into one gigantic vat of smoldering energy, along with Bud Powell, Charles Mingus and Max Roach. That was no average presentation, but the bebop masters at their best. On October 25, 2001 Massey Hall received another stellar quintet, microphones in place, expectations high. The ensuing collaboration of Herbie Hancock and his colleagues may not climb to the improbable heights of the concert forty-eight years earlier, but it makes plenty of its own musical joy -- albeit under the weight of the daunting legacy that informs its texts.

Hancock, of course, was a cog in the mid-60's Miles Davis quintet that many gifted jazz musicians regard as the definitive Davis group. That quintet was "led" in essence by the spontaneous eruptions of a young Tony Williams whose percussive complexity brought a new energy to bear on a well-worn musical format. Both Hancock and saxophonist Wayne Shorter wrote important music for that band. The weight in question here (today) as Hancock collaborates with the unsurpassable Michael Brecker on tenor sax and the tactful Roy Hargrove on trumpet -- bass powerhouse John Patituci alongside the percussion magic of Brian Blade -- is the weight of tradition that has come to stump so many young musicians emerging across the last decade or so.

If tradition provides frameworks that orient creativity, it also provides roadblocks that can thwart artistic freedom. The separate legacies of Davis and of John Coltrane have acted as
blocking agents more often than goads, lures, and enabling energies. The exalted reach that each man employed across long years of restless creative searching -- searching that, with each in vastly different ways, succeeded with inimitable clarity -- stands before those who follow them as an example of what ought to be accomplished... and how difficult such accomplishment truly is.

That is the burden that the marvelous quintet at work here poses for itself. To witness this group in concert in Toronto (or at Monterey, as I have) is to hear musicians of the utmost ability and savvy. What is missing in the long labor of dedication to such masters as 'Trane and Miles, is the predecessor's outrageous, boundless daring. The result of following 'in the spirit of' stellar forbears is to be somewhat diminished by the dedicatory trek. Once we recognize how thoroughly that problematic ratio conditions the current jazz circumstance -- a ratio foregrounded here by the magnificence of the playing and the glory of the examples chosen -- we can zero in on instances of musical depth and separation underway.

Let us begin with Brecker, a saxophonist whose chops are at the leading edge of players on the scene today. Listen to his surging songfulness on Coltrane's searing composition, "Transition." While no one will approximate the unbridled exuberance and sheer (searing) intensity that Coltrane exerted routinely, Brecker's attack creates its own undiminishable reality. His tone strides forth like a whaling vessel, under maniacal leadership, stalking the great maverick levitation.

There is something haunted and heartbreaking about Brecker's playing at moments... as if one of life's deepest secrets were about to be revealed within its explorational self-confidence. Listen closely to "Naima." There we find, again, that Michael Brecker is a player 'in the spirit of' John Coltrane who has absorbed Wayne Shorter's example as well -- and more than can easily be summarized. Hancock's playing continues to be nothing short of blissful. He owns an instantly recognizable touch that never fails to hold the mind and heart in one embrace. Brian Blade is, simply, one of the most tasteful drummers you can hear. The upshot of this nearly 80-minute concert is a collaboration of five sympathetic musicians in the service of the best of what preceded (and, in the person of Hancock, what concretely fostered) uncanny talent let loose across this disc. We may know in advance the lesson to be learned from this recording at Massey Hall, but repeating strong lessons is an exercise worth making if the players shouldering such burdens of artistic influence are up to the quest for personal creative differentiation -- as these men are.











































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