With the incredible success of his recent collaborations on Possibilities and River: The Joni Letters, music legend Herbie Hancock explores world harmony, peace and greater hope on his newest release, The Imagine Project. Just in time for his 70th birthday, Hancock creates another musical masterpiece that was recorded all around the world in the collaborators native lands when possible, sometimes even in simulcast.
When you think of songs that define peace and tolerance, the one that tops out on mostly everyone’s list is John Lennon’s “Imagine.” Hancock opens the record with a graceful piano melody that leads in to a duet between Pink and Seal in the opening verses of “Imagine.” “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one/ I hope someday you’ll join us and the world will be as one” are powerful words, but hearing India Arie sing those lines behind an upbeat jazz foundation in an extended version of the song is fantastic. Hancock also features the legendary guitar work of Jeff Beck and bassist Marcus Miller on the opening track.
Hope is kept alive in a version of Peter Gabriel’s ballad “Don’t Give Up” that opens with John Legend and follows with compelling verses from Pink. As the direction of the song transitions, midway through, Legend reaches somewhat of an epiphany during the height of the song and a harmonizing part with Pink. On a cover of Joe Cocker’s “Space Captain,” Hancock features Susan Tedeschi taking hold of lead vocals and Derek Trucks bringing his slide mastery to the arrangement. The song features a duel as Trucks enters into a guitar vs. piano solo battle against Hancock. The chemistry between these three fantastic musicians would have been amazing to witness live in the studio. Be sure to carefully look for Trucks’ entry point as he opens quietly and gains momentum throughout, as most of his solos embody that personality.
Hancock’s genius is greatly shown in the compositions he assembles with the variety of musicians he features on the collection of songs. The former piano player to Miles Davis’ band continues to spread his brilliance and passion for creating great music with everyone he encounters in the studio and on stage. Singing with an Irish whisper alongside Hancock and The Chieftains, Lisa Hannigan is featured on a version of Bob Dylan’s “The Times, They Are A’ Changin’,” and returns after appearing on Hancock’s Possibilities with Damien Rice. On a cover of The Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows,”
Dave Matthews provides standout vocals and the song itself retains much of the flowing train of thought from the original recording. Other highlights include James Morrison’s soulful voice on Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come” that outweighs any cover I have heard of the song, even Seal’s version, off his 2008 release Soul. On the final track of The Imagine Project titled “The Song Goes On,” Hancock employs sitar player Anoushka Shankar, daughter of Ravi Shankar, jazz saxophonist Wayne Shorter and Chaka Khan. The song twines Indian culture with piano melodies and features Shankar’s skillful playing complemented by Chaka Khan’s incredible voice, especially powerful in the pre-chorus.
Whether paz, frieden, filemu or amani mean “peace” in your native language, all music connoisseurs will appreciate this record to its full magnitude. Herbie Hancock continues to put forth magnificent compositions as he strives for peace, respect and a conscious effort to the planet we occupy on a global scale with The Imagine Project.