I wasn't going to go--I have an exam on Monday for which I desperately need to study (and will do so as soon as I make this post)--but I caught the Herbie Hancock concert tonight at Ithaca's magnificent State Street Theater. The guitarist from the band I'm putting together right now managed to get me a third-row-center seat for $25, so I couldn't say no. All I have to say is: DAMN. His current touring group is a quartet featuring Gary Thomas on tenor and flute, Scott Colley on DB, and the incomparable Terri Lyne Carrington on drums. They're well-suited to the music (q.v.) The group opened with what Hancock dubbed "The Dolphin Dance Suite": a 45-minute composition, reminiscent of some of Keith Jarrett's and Cecil Taylor's 1970s opuses, Wayne Shorter's The All-Seeing Eye, and "The Egg" from Hancock's own Empyrean Isles. It incorporated several tunes from the Hancock book, few of which I recognized. I want to say that at most 16 bars of "Dolphin Dance" as we know it were played during the piece. It was...amazing. The way Hancock worked the dynamics and the feel of the group was downright orchestral. Much of the improvisation was free--Hancock himself was simply tearing it up and playing more atonally than I've ever heard him--and I could not believe that so much sound was coming from four people. Carrington, in particular, was a revelation: she has built on the example of Tony Williams, in particular, to an unbelievable degree of rhythmic sophistication. The interplay between Hancock and Carrington was a delight. Colley was rock-solid yet surprisingly free, somewhat reminiscent of Gary Peacock, and thus well-suited to this music. Thomas almost seemed lost, but his contributions were always interesting, and went he went outside he went way out. The next big highlight was a lengthy piece built from a fragment of the melody of Bill Evans' "Funkallero," (which Herbie declared to be "not funky at all")played this time as a bassline by Colley while Carrington established a vicious funk groove and Thomas added some gorgeous textures on flute. It segued quite subtly into "Chameleon," which was kept tastefully short so as not to cater excessively to the hippies, and contained some tasty grooving from Colley. The last big highlight, the encore, was perhaps the most wack-assed "Maiden Voyage" I have ever heard: 15 minutes of near-symphonic invention, introduced by Hancock reaching into his Steinway and attacking the strings a la Keith Tippett. The contrasts of light and shade were simply superlative, and Thomas' solo went into some Marshall Allen-esque flights of atonal virtuosity. Hancock has lost absolutely none of his chops despite his advancing age and is arguably playing more inventively now than he has in 25 years. While Future 2 Future was a bust, if he can get this current group into a studio and maintain anywhere near this level of inventiveness, he might make one of the greatest jazz albums of the next twenty years. Amazing stuff. Go see him on tour if you get the chance.