Herbie Hancock: Possibilities

Will Layman

A largely forgettable set of pop duets that could be interpreted as a regrettable sell-out move if it actually had any commercial potential. Hancock's Starbucks album yawns toward blandness.

Herbie Hancock


Label: Vector Recordings
US Release Date: 2005-08-30
UK Release Date: 2005-08-29
Amazon affiliate


Herbie Hancock is a stone monster of modern jazz piano -- one of a very few living players who is an influence on everybody, baby. Cat played with Miles Davis when he was still a little pup, negotiating the hippest rhythm section in the Milky Way for seven years. Then, he made the funkiest fusion album of the '70s (Headhunters), proving that he could play downtown as well as up. Top that off with "Rockit" in the '80s, and you have a man of unquestioned groovitude and musical intelligence over many decades.


Descend Starbucks Coffee -- that ubiquitous presence of civility and pseudo-sophisticated caffeine-mellow that has turned a generation of potential punk-rocking kids into Norah Jones-digging wannabe poets. Sure, they can sell coffee for four bucks per cup, but must they also become a record company? Herbie Hancock, man often perched on the cutting edge, orders a grande, sits on the couch, and puts out this record, Possibilities, with them.


Now, pardner, warn't it just last year that the venerable and never-out-of-style (and late) Ray Charles made an album of pop-star duets? Even won a couple Grammies with that bad boy. Why not our friend Herbie? Why not a string of duets with luminaries and talented unknowns (but mainly with pop stars)?


And why not John Mayer? The girls love him, and he's a got a kind of jazzy little swing to his voice. "Stitched Up" is a funk ditty he can sing over. Herbie lays down some acoustic piano, sounding every bit like one of the countless pianists who have lifted a Hancockism or two from the master himself -- a carbon copy of a carbon copy who happens to be the original. Nice little track. But little.


What other instrumentalist has thrived on this kind of pop star duet format in recent years? Yes, indeed -- welcome Carlos Santana. "Safiatou" sounds every bit like a Santana tune, with its Chester Thompson organ and Dennis Chambers drums riding over Latin percussion. The usually unmistakable Angelique Kidjo is vaguely wasted on vocals. Is this a Herbie Hancock album or some kind of ill-considered tribute disc?


Bring in the pipes! Leon Russell's "A Song For You" is just the thing for Christina Aguilera. No doubt she can sing, but maybe we all preferred her as a genie in a bottle. And it suddenly seems like a century since Herbie coaxed a brilliant vocal from Joni Mitchell on his mixed-success Gershwin album.


"I Do It For Your Love": a truly terrific Paul Simon song. If this were on a Paul Simon record, with a lovely, light guest solo from Herbie Hancock, we'd all be intrigued. A light Brazilian feel is just thing, though I think all purchasers of the disc will want to know why the liner notes credit Gina Gershon (loved her in Showgirls and Face/Off!) on jew's harp. Gina -- is that you?


Annie Lennox doing a Paula Cole song? Herbie, man -- have you been drinking a few too many lattes? "Hush, Hush, Hush" was a mistake.


Well, there was no way you were gonna keep Der Shtingle away from a project like this. Yet it's a good match. African guitar phenom Lionel Loueke smacks a hip bass-line arrangement on this sturdy Sting-tune, and the Englishman in New York provides the kind of spirited vocal that his solo career has mostly lacked. Herbie is almost irrelevant to the track, but we'll give him credit anyway. Nice.


And then a coffeehouse trifecta comes to town: Johnny Lang and Joss Stone doing a U2 song, "When Love Comes to Town". Suddenly Ron Carter, Tony Williams and Wayne Shorter seem a million miles away. When Mr. Hancock solos here, he is oddly adventurous, as if to suggest that some sliver of him may actually object. I know I do.


Damien Rice singing Billie Holiday's "Hush Now, Don't Explain": one of the most singularly unexciting performance to be laid down in 2005. Meditative, subtle, flat, expressionless. Not rescuable, and not rescued by Mr. Hancock's decision to reach for something within his tradition.


Perhaps things could be livened up with a tune by one of the American Greats, Stevie Wonder? I'm sooooo sorry, the choice is "I Just Called to Say 'I Love You'", one the Mr. Wonder's least appealing concoctions. The vocalist here is a Stevie clone named Raul Midon, and the band takes the song at a glacial tempo, with synch orchestration from here to the window. When Stevie himself shows up for the obligatory harmonica solo, it's much too little, entirely too late.


And finally: the first part of what is alleged to be a "four-part suite" improvised by Mr. Hancock and King Tokemeister of the late, lamented groove band, Phish: Mr. Trey Anastasio. Trey can certainly play guitar, as many a weave-dancing, grill-cheese eating, jam-loving Vermonter can tell you. But he barely plays on this almost entirely melody-free instrumental. You wander over to your stereo to see if one of the channels is out, because all this track consists of is a bland, tinkly rhythm section pattern. Phish never put out anything this wishy-washy, and neither has Herbie. But it's a fitting end for an album that leaves you thinking: Can this really be serious? Where is the music anyway, man?

Where, indeed.





12 Essential Kate Bush Songs

While Kate Bush is a national treasure in the UK, American listeners don't know her as well. The following 12 songs capture her irrepressible spirit.


Tatsuya Nakatani and Shane Parish Replace Form with Risk on 'Interactivity'

The more any notions of preconceived musicality are flicked to the curb, the more absorbing Tatsuya Nakatani and Shane Parish's Interactivity gets.


Martin Green's Junkshop Yields the Gritty, Weird Story of Britpop Wannabes

Featuring a litany of otherwise-forgotten budget bin purchases, Martin Green's two-disc overview of coulda-been Britpop contenders knows little of genre confines, making for a fun historical detour if nothing else.


Haux Compellingly Explores Pain via 'Violence in a Quiet Mind'

By returning to defined moments of pain and struggle, Haux cultivates breathtaking music built on quiet, albeit intense, anguish.


'Stratoplay' Revels in the Delicious New Wave of the Revillos

Cherry Red Records' six-disc Revillos compilation, Stratoplay, successfully charts the convoluted history of Scottish new wave sensations.


Rising Young Jazz Pianist Micah Thomas Debuts with 'Tide'

Micah Thomas' Tide is the debut of a young jazz pianist who is comfortable and fluent in a "new mainstream": abstraction as well as tonality, freedom as well as technical complexity.


Why Australia's Alice Ivy Doesn't Want to Sleep

Alice Ivy walks a fine line between chillwave cool and Big Beat freakouts, and her 2018 debut record was an electropop wonder. Now, in the middle of a pandemic, she tries to keep the good vibes going with a new record decked out in endless collaborations.


Five Women Who Fought the Patriarchy

Whether one chooses to read Square Haunting for the sketches of the five fascinating women, or to understand how misogyny and patriarchy constricted intellectual and public life in the period, Francesca Wade's book is a superb achievement.


Director Denis Côté on Making Film Fearlessly

In this interview with PopMatters, director Denis Côté recalls 2010's Curling (now on Blu-Ray) discusses film as a "creative experiment in time", and making films for an audience excited by the idea of filling in playful narrative gaps.


Learning to Take a Picture: An Interview With Inara George

Inara George is unafraid to explore life's more difficult and tender moments. Discussion of her latest music, The Youth of Angst, leads to stories of working with Van Dyke Parks and getting David Lee Roth's musical approval.


Country Westerns Bask in an Unparalleled Sound and Energy on Their Debut

Country Westerns are intent on rejecting assumptions about a band from Nashville while basking in an unparalleled sound and energy.


Rediscovering Japanese Director Tomu Uchida

A world-class filmmaker of diverse styles, we take a look at Tomu Uchida's very different Bloody Spear at Mount Fuji and The Mad Fox.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.