[29 July 2008]
It’s one of the quirks of an aging music business that even as Herbie Hancock basks in acclaim for his Joni Mitchell tribute, someone is releasing a tribute to him in turn. And as a veteran who’s worked with Miles Davis and Freddie Hubbard, as well as the likes of James Brown and Steely Dan, pianist John Beasley is a natural for the lesser heard back pages of a man forever at the interface of jazz and popular music. Herbie’s mod-jazz soundtrack to Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow Up is more often remembered for “Bring Down the Birds”, but Beasley brings down an entirely unexpected, subterranean-deep cover of “The Naked Camera” instead (with a fade-out reverie echoing Miles’ Dingo OST). While he likewise goes electric for a brief, dub-centric take on Headhunters booty, “Vein Melter”, this is in large part an acoustic salute. Flying with the likes of Roy Hargrove and a club class rhythm section (Christian McBride and Jeff Watts), he simply lets Herbie’s spirit wash over him, channelling that chordal aggregate and lyrical fizz into elegantly conceived quasi-covers, redefinitions and Hancock-ian originals.