Herbie Hancock: The Imagine Project (Sony)

 |   |  1 min read

Herbie Hancock: Tomorrow Never Knows
Herbie Hancock: The Imagine Project (Sony)

Regardless of what you think of John Lennon's song Imagine -- and opinion ranges from drippy sentimentality to inspirational -- most would agree the song succeeds with many people for its understated delivery. Lennon sang it without aching obviously through whatever emotion he might be bringing to it, which allowed the listener to fill in the gap.

Wish we could say the same for the many thousands who have covered it: most find deep emotion in every syllable and make sure you know they really, really feel this message.

Most versions of Imagine are unlistenable -- and when you get soul singers taking it on things are often just absurd as they try to prove just how sensitive they are.

Regrettably this new celebrity-collision album helmed by Herbie Hancock starts off in just that way as Pink and Seal go out of their way to quiver through the lyrics. Things improve when Konono No 1 bring some funky (but smoothly produced) drive to it with Oumou Sangare. Jeff Beck gets a brief solo and India.Arie brings soul-jazz quiver . . .

Next up is Pink and John Legend on Peter Gabriel's Don't Give Up (with Beck's bassist Tal Wickenfeld and the session wizards) and later Dave Matthews offers a servicable version of Tomorrow Never Knows.

James Morrison plays a straight bat to Sam Cooke's A Change is Gonna Come (nice), Juanes keeps the emotions in check with La Tierra, and The Chieftains and kora player Toumani Diabate get in behind the whispered/urgent vocals of Lisa Hannigan on The Times They Are a Changin'.

Other guests (often on the same track) include Tinariwen, Los Lobos, Anoushka Shankar, Wayne Shorter, Chaka Khan, Ceu . . .  

You sense that most people on hand knew they were involved in An Important Album -- one with a social conscience -- and have taken the material and themselves very seriously indeed. Shame.

Of course the musicianship is superb and Hancock really is on top form here -- so much so you wish you could get a version without the vocals to more fully appreciate his playing as he remakes the familiar melodies.

Mostly this album reminds me of Quincy Jones' equally guest-heavy Back on the Block, and I don't think I ever listened to that more than once.

But my pick is that come Grammy time Imagine will be up for song of the year. This is that kind of album.

Share It

Your Comments

post a comment

More from this section   Jazz articles index

THE YOUNG LIONS OF JAZZ (1994): Tomorrow is the question

THE YOUNG LIONS OF JAZZ (1994): Tomorrow is the question

If rock is the culture which eats its young -- or at least allows Kurt Cobain to leave a suicide note which says “I need to be slightly numb in order to regain the enthusiasm I once had as... > Read more

Crayford/Street/Weiss: East West Moon (Rattle Jazz)

Crayford/Street/Weiss: East West Moon (Rattle Jazz)

Jonathan Crayford has long been considered one of New Zealand's finest jazz pianists and his range is wide, from Latin flavours to touring with Trinity Roots, playing acid-jazz with New York's... > Read more

Elsewhere at Elsewhere

Arthur Alexander: The Ultimate Arthur Alexander (1993 compilation)

Arthur Alexander: The Ultimate Arthur Alexander (1993 compilation)

You only need look at a partial list of those who covered the songs of Arthur Alexander (1940-1993) to get a measure of the man's gifts: the young Beatles (John Lennon a big fan who sang Soldier of... > Read more

POP TO POPISM (2014): The cultural shift in contemporary art

POP TO POPISM (2014): The cultural shift in contemporary art

In the early Sixties just before the Beatles conquered America through a combination of art, smarts and image – and shifted the coordinates of popular culture to Britain – America... > Read more