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Possibilities ... versus Actualities
on August 31, 2005
The pre-release word-of-blog regarding POSSIBILITIES among a number of long-time Herbie Hancock fans has largely been suspicious of this album's potential for bridging stylistic gaps among some, if not all of the album's guests. And the Starbucks connection also left many seeing this as a marketing gimmick. Well, even if it was built to attract fans of the guests as much or more than Hancock, the bottom line is: does the music succeed as an effective reflection of Herbie's strengths, as well as being a compatible showcase for the guests?
I would say the answer is usually one or the other, but only occasionally both. If you are a Hancock fan who wants to hear him to best advantage, you'll have to satisfied on much of POSSIBILITIES with nice acoustic piano solos that sound overdubbed after-the-fact onto tracks he otherwise doesn't seem to be much involved in. Roughly half the tracks fall into that category (including ones with John Mayer, Santana & Angelique Kidjo, and Jonny Lang & Joss Stone). Herbie seems more in the center of things on the other half, such as on worthwhile tracks by Sting, Paul Simon, Damien Rice & Lisa Hannigan, and even the Christina Aguilera cut works both sides of the fence quite well. Yet only on the final track "Gelo Na Montanha" is Herbie in the forefront from beginning to end. In my opinion, this CD would have been a more effective Herbie Hancock album if it had a 50/50 mix of the most successful vocal/piano collaborations with instrumentals that allow Herbie to be the star of his own show (ala recent Santana albums that were roughly a half-Santana, half Santana-with-guests split).
If the guest list generally looks attractive to the potential buyer, I think you're more likely to be satisfied with this album. All of the vocalists come off at or near the top of their game. The Mayer track should please his fans, even if to Hancock followers the union of these two seems quite square peg/round hole. Christina shows off a more mature side than on most of her own tracks on "A Song For You." "Safiatou" (with Santana and Angelique Kidjo) is an excellent collaboration that would elevate any of Santana's most recent CDs. For Hancock fans however, again he sounds like he is a part atop of the track rather than within it. Stevie Wonder's "I Just Called..." gets a more reflective treatment than the original hit version. While Raul Midon handles the vocal well, it's hard not to wish Stevie had taken the lead, particularly being that he is already on the track (on harmonica).
The album's worst moment ends arguably its most moving performance: Annie Lennox's vocal of Paula Cole's tune "Hush Hush Hush." What's there is exquisite, but when Herbie starts to solo -- perfectly taking off from Lennox's vocal -- the track FADES OUT! Note to producers: that ruined the mood! Overall, as I mentioned earlier, POSSIBILITIES will probably connect with the listener who is more attracted to the guest list than the star, albeit to whatever extent that Herbie is heard, he sounds in fine form. This long-time Hancock fan obviously hopes for a bit more when buying his albums, but I'd say POSSIBILITIES comes across as a pretty effective pop culture mixtape (with Hancock as the link to all cuts).