Since the mainstream success of Santana’s Supernatural, Ray Charles’ Genius Loves Company, and B.B. King’s upcoming Deuces Wild, record companies have been generous with their big star collaboration albums. Despite their popularity, the artistic integrity of these collaboration albums are often suspect because of the supreme marketing and profit potential that having multiple world famous artists on the same album offer record companies. That’s not to say, all business talk aside, that the music is invariably compromised. But, can all collaboration albums achieve the same level of craftsmanship that the before-mentioned albums have?
“The possibilities are endless,” writes Herbie Hancock in his latest liner notes to Possibilites. The album features ten inspired Hancock collaborations including: John Mayer, Santana and Angelique Kidjo, Christina Aguilera, Paul Simon, Annie Lennox, Sting, Jonny Lang and Joss Stone, Damien Rice and Lisa Hannigan, Raul Midon, and Trey Anastasio.
“Stitched Up” features John Mayer bridging the stylistic gap between he and Hancock with a funky solid vocal good enough to keep the whole room dancing. Paul Simon proves his veteran and senior status on the album by delivering a jazz ballad vocal of maturity, full of passion, and pure like a fine wine. Christina Aguilera shows that music of the teenie bopper persuasion is not her only kind; she delivers a soulful rendition of “A Song For You” leaving any previously pop-cynical listener with a kind of redeeming curiousity about the merits of youthful tastes in tunes.
Raul Midon, a blind virtuoso guitar player and vocalist, covers Stevie Wonder’s “I Just Called to Say I Love You” with a surprise harmonica solo from Stevie Wonder himself and a standard, minimally audible background piano by Hancock. Midon sings strongly, his voice full of the soulful Stevie Wonder treble, leaving the listener intrigued, but ultimately dissappointed that Stevie Wonder wasn’t the singer delivering those high register notes diving quickly to the low. This is a clear case of too many star musicians and too many choices. Think about the possibilities? Or think about why Stevie Wonder would play harmonica and not sing?
Despite the occasionally over-thought song possibilites, Herbie Hancock’s wise choices in artists and skilled choices in song and style match-ups prove that not all collaborations are artistically empty.