It's been a few years since Herbie Hancock experimented with turntables. It's been even longer since the beachball Afros and spacesuits. And by the time he hit the stage at Severance Hall, the only electronic gizmo Hancock brought onstage with him was a palm pilot programmed with his set list. As he made clear with his latest recording, last year's Gershwin's World, Hancock has come full circle from the fusion pioneer and genre-busting hipster he was in the '70s and '80s. Leaving the high-tech to his CD-ROM projects, he seems to be more interested in getting back to the jazz tradition and expanding it from the inside; we have undoubtedly entered the golden age of Herbie Hancock.
Fortunately for the crowd at Severance Hall, Hancock wasn't at all indisposed toward turning the spotlight on his own jazzy back pages. Playing in a trio context, Hancock roared through the two-set evening, topping his high-spirited, ebullient workout with a trio of his early compositions. In a positively frenetic mood, Hancock and company ripped through a bluesy "Cantaloupe Island," but still saved plenty of time for lengthy, beautiful renditions of "Dolphin Dance" and "Maiden Voyage." Both tunes opened with impressionistic solo sections before Hancock hit the melody and the trio kicked in.
The Hancock tunes were, of course, a joy to hear. But just about everything Hancock played turned out well -- from the spiky, double-fisted chording of "New York Minute" to the positively frenetic "Just One of Those Things." A special mention also goes out to bassist James Genus. He may have been with Hancock for only three previous gigs, but he obviously knew these tunes inside and out (as any jazz musician worth the time should) and followed Hancock note for note. Even during Hancock's lush harmonies, Genus's subtle, resonant bass playing deserved attention. -- Aaron Steinberg