INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
IGN APRIL 14, 2006 - by Todd Gilchrist
An intimate and detailed look at the making of a masterpiece.
Herbie Hancock's new documentary is the musical equivalent of Peter Jackson's King Kong Production Diaries: an intimate and detailed look at the making of a masterpiece that manages never to release even a snippet of the end result. Its careful avoidance of that inevitable 'final product' is perhaps its greatest asset; without anything to summarily 'complete' this creative odyssey, or worse yet, dismiss it altogether, audiences are given the greatest gift a film can offer - namely, curiosity. All of which is why Possibilities is not only a strikingly appropriate name for Hancock's film and its companion album, but the herald of great things to come in both disparate artistic arenas it attempts to connect.
Featuring a roster of stars that would make Carlos Santana green with envy (in fact featuring Santana as well), Possibilities chronicles the globe-trotting efforts of Hancock as he puts together his latest album. His collaborators include Christina Aguilera, Sting, John Mayer, Phish's Trey Anastasio, Damien Rice, Angelique Kidjo, Paul Simon, Brian Eno, Annie Lennox, Jonny Lang, Joss Stone and Wayne Shorter amongst others, most or all of whom are game participants both for the record and the camera; their combined efforts produce an album full of eclectic influences, curious digressions, and always fascinating combinations - keeping in the proud tradition Hancock began some fifty years ago.
Thankfully, this legacy will not be lost even to those unfamiliar with the pianist's repertoire. In addition to following Hancock around the world as he works on the album, the film looks back at his illustrious history as a musical innovator, including footage from his days with a young Miles Davis, a performance of his Headhunters classic Chameleon, and a clip from his groundbreaking video for the hip-hop influenced Rockit. All of these lend credulity to his claim that the hip stuff is outside the comfort zone, and bolster the artistic merit and true collaborative spirit that went into Possibilities.
Not only accepting but encouraging improvisation and independence from his selected contributors, Hancock quickly rediscovers the virtues of ensemble performance: Aguilera's indisputable vocal chops on A Song For You; Mayer's boundless enthusiasm and square-hipster vibe during the recording of Stitched Up; Lennox' curiosity precisely what Paula Cole intended to write about when she composed Hush, Hush, Hush; Sting's jazzy, unpredictable improvisations on Sister Moon; and Eno's high-tech but deeply-felt approach to rendering Let Me In, one of the few recordings that didn't make the final cut (though Hancock recently confessed that it may appear on a future album).
As a venerated elder statesman of the music industry, Hancock's observations about creative drive and 'the biz' are valuable more than merely as self-congratulatory platitudes; his own impulse to innovate and challenge himself has given birth to a fertile, eclectic discography - which is certainly more than can be said about many of the younger artists with whom he works here. At the same time, his ability to marvel at the other artists' talents - including Raul Midon's ability to perfectly mimic a trumpet with his mouth - reminds us that truly great musicians never lose their appetite for artistic excellence, whether its their own or someone else's. Like a fine wine, Hancock has only gotten better and more complex with age. (And if he can continue to be bedazzled by musicians at the ripe old age of sixty-six, then it gives me hope that there might be one or two among today's current crop of pop stars who will outgrow their populist ambitions and aim for something, oh, well, slightly more credible.)
Some of the photography is slightly less than generous in capturing its subjects - doing no favours to Aguilera's heavily made-up skin, and zooming so close in on Hancock during an interview that his entire face isn't even visible - but overall this documentary creates the desired effect without either overly qualifying the album's mainstream ambitions or unduly glorifying the performer himself as a genuine legend. Ironically, it's no less than Santana, he the king of the career-capping pop crossovers, who inadvertently sums up Hancock and his album's achievement: beauty, elegance, excellence, grace, and dignity.
For a sixty-six-year-old pianist who has already done pretty much everything musically with everyone who mattered in the past fifty years, his work in this documentary not only embodies each of those ideals, but suggests that Herbie Hancock may yet invent a few more before his time is through. Because if there's one thing that Possibilities proves, it's that Hancock can turn almost anything - an idea, an improvisation, and especially, a possibility - into something far more powerful: a reality.