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JAZZ REVIEW

Hancock puts the zing into string fest

The pianist joins a stellar guitar lineup on the stage of the Bowl to make it a night to remember.

August 17, 2007|Don Heckman | Special to The Times

The magic arrived unannounced, unexpected and late Wednesday evening at the Hollywood Bowl. It came in the figure of pianist Herbie Hancock, casually strolling on stage for the closing number in a program devoted to jazz guitar, transforming it into a highlight of the summer jazz season.

That's not to say that the concert -- which featured guitarists Lionel Loueke, John Scofield and Lee Ritenour -- was lacking in spirit, swing or imagination. The opening set by Loueke, a gifted young player from Benin, displayed such a high level of creativity, in fact, that it threatened to steal the show. His final two numbers, in particular, "Light Dark" and "Seven Teens," were marvels of symbiotic interaction between Loueke's blend of fast fingers and probing melodicism, the sturdy bass work of Massimo Biolcati and the simmering, many-layered drumming of Ferenc Nemeth.

Scofield displayed his familiar eclecticism, roving freely from straight-ahead jazz to rock wailing to in-the-pocket funk. Starting a bit slowly with "House of the Rising Sun," his set took off when bassist Steve Swallow and drummer Bill Stewart kicked the rhythm into a walking groove, freeing Scofield for a series of high-flying solos.

Ritenour's star-studded collective featured keyboardist Patrice Rushen, drummer Alex Acuña and bassists Richard Bona and Brian Bromberg. Although vestiges of pop and smooth jazz surfaced from time to time, this set brought out the best in Ritenour. Inspired by Wes Montgomery, adeptly ripping off solos spiced with octave runs, he displayed a creative enthusiasm that surfaces too rarely in his recordings.

Ritenour's set was further enlivened by spotlight appearances for each player: Rushen making a rare vocal offering, singing her 1982 hit "Forget Me Nots"; Bona scatting and playing in unison with his stunning instrumental virtuosity; Bromberg proving that he's the fastest bassist alive; and Acuña finding jazz rhythms in the box-like cajon drum.

It took that final number -- an all-join-in jam session version of Hancock's "Cantaloupe Island" -- to reveal that even the best players, performing at high level, can be galvanized further given the right trigger. Hancock, whose presence at the piano created instant musical pyrotechnics, led a climactic display of creative fireworks out-energizing the Bowl's own fiery display.

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