Jazz CD Reviews
John Beasley, piano – Letter to Herbie – Resonance Records
Published on April 9, 2008
(with Christian McBride, bass; Jeff “Tain” Watts, drums; guests: Roy Hargrove, trumpet; Steve Tavaglione, flute; Luis Conte, percussion; Michael O’Neal, guitar)
This is one of the very first releases for the new jazz label Resonance Records, and puts in the spotlight a pianist with an impressive list of credentials. Beasley has performed or recorded with Miles Davis, Freddie Hubbard, Lee Ritenour, Steely Dan, James Brown and Hubert Laws. He was recently Queen Latifah’s music director on her jazz tour, leading a big band, and was for two years the arranger for American Idol.
Herbie Hancock’s music has been an inspiration to John for some time. By accident he stumbled on a clever medley of Hancock’s Maiden Voyage with his Tell Me a Bedtime Story. This stimulated him to do something special with Herbie’s music. After picking the songs, he thought not about how Hancock would play them but how he would do the tunes on the tribute album. I’d forgotten that Hancock created the soundtrack for Antonioni’s Blow Up back in 1967, and Beasley chose a cue titled The Naked Camera. He gives a wild Afro-Cuban arrangement to Hancock’s Eye of the Hurricane, and a dub-inspired twist to a tune from Hancock’s funk-fusion classic album Headhunters.
Beasley included two of his own compositions which show the influence of Hancock. His Hear and Now has a feel like Hancock’s Dolphin Dance. Another aspect of Hancock’s work is his wide-ranging musical exploration, and Beasley gets into that as well. The unique contributions of his guest performers on selected tracks is just one example. One radio station has Beasley categorized under Smooth Jazz, but I wouldn’t agree with that at all; these new views of Hancock’s musical world have just as much depth and density as the originals – only not quite as much hard swing.
4 AM, Bedtime Voyage, Chan’s Song, Three-Finger Snap, The Naked Camera, Eye of the Hurricane, Diana, Hear and Now, Still Time, Veinmelter
— John Henry