Since I haven’t yet heard Directions in Music–the quintet convened for this tour, and hasn’t recorded–it’s hard for me to imagine any way this show could go wrong. To celebrate what would’ve been the 75th birthdays of Miles Davis and John Coltrane (born four months apart in 1926), pianist Herbie Hancock–arguably their equal in terms of influence and accomplishment–has assembled a group modeled after the 1950s Davis band that starred Coltrane. (Press releases say “the music recorded by Coltrane and Davis from the late 50s through the 60s–together and apart–provides much of the material”; those criteria make fair game of everything from the brooding lyricism of Sketches of Spain to the tumultuous freedom of Coltrane’s later years.) Hancock, who sparkled in Davis’s monumental mid-60s quintet, has chosen some terrific younger musicians to play the parts of their storied forebears. Drummer Brian Blade may never carry the cachet of Philly Joe Jones or Tony Williams, the essential Davis drummers, but he’s started to build a reputation for his distinctive and inventive vision. Bassist John Patitucci’s malleable tone and knuckle-busting style descend from Davis mainstay Ron Carter’s flexible timbre and quick-step comp lines. And tenor man Michael Brecker, Hancock’s costar in this venture, has built his music on key tenets of Coltrane’s early style–most notably the intricate melodic figures, rapid harmonic permutations, and throaty, vivid tone–in the process becoming the most influential jazz saxophonist of the past 25 years. But trumpeter Roy Hargrove, despite his clean, lyrical approach, doesn’t sound much like Miles, and his presence here seems to make less sense–until you recall the relationship Davis had with saxophonists throughout his career. When he hooked up with Charlie Parker in the mid-40s, his reticent, purposefully unspectacular style–an abrupt departure from that of Parker’s partner in bebop, Dizzy Gillespie–provided the perfect foil for Parker’s coruscating solos. Davis consistently re-created that aesthetic tension in his own bands, hiring busily brilliant, virtuosic saxists like Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Cannonball Adderley, and Wayne Shorter. Seen in that context, Hargrove is a splendid choice: his effortless melodies and Brecker’s solos should balance each other like a pair of Wallendas. Friday, October 26, 8 PM, Orchestra Hall, Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan; 312-294-3000 or 800-223-7114.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Michael Jackson.