That Herbie Hancock is headlining the 75th-birthday tribute to Miles Davis and John Coltrane should come as no surprise. A member of the famed Miles Davis Quintet in the 1960s, Hancock continued working with Miles through Bitches Brew and subsequent early-'70s jazz-fusion forays. Aside from Miles, Hancock probably enjoys the highest profile of any contemporary jazz musician of the past several decades. In addition to being one of the top pianists in acoustic jazz, Hancock has a great track record when it comes to making music that appeals to fans of funk, R&B and hip-hop. His synthesizer-driven 1983 tune "Rockit" is the only song by a jazz musician to make it to No. 1 on the pop charts in the last half-century.Unfortunately, Hancock's immense success sometimes seems to dull his creative inspiration and intensity -- especially in concert. So the real fireworks at this tribute to Miles and 'Trane are more likely to come from other members of the band -- especially tenor-sax player Michael Brecker and trumpeter Roy Hargrove. Despite Brecker's rep as the ultimate session saxman (he's worked with everyone from Aerosmith and Billy Joel to Bootsy Collins and Frank Zappa), he's come into his own as a leader over the past decade, releasing fine recordings such as Two Blocks From the Edge that highlight his blistering 'Tranelike approach.
Although Hargrove is only 31, he's already been a major force in jazz for more than a decade, with a dozen recordings as a leader to his credit. Encouraged early in his career by Wynton Marsalis, Hargrove soon moved rapidly past neobop imitation to honing his own personality on the horn. Hearing Hargrove work within the framework of some of Davis' masterpieces should be a treat. Add the great rhythm section of John Patitucci on bass and Brian Blade on drums, and who knows? Maybe Hancock will give us more than a glimpse of his immense talent Friday evening.