He got his first big break working with Miles Davis's quintet, so Herbie Hancock is no stranger to sharing a stage with the best musicians around. Interestingly, neither are some of the artists who appear on this CD. Joss Stone features on many of this year's compilations and collaborations albums. Paul Simon has made collaboration a cornerstone of his solo career. Bigtime collaborator Santana does it with Angelique Kidjo. And Xtina... well, she doesn't write her own music, so everything she does is a collaboration of sorts.
Recordings that depend on collaboration often disappoint. This one proves from the first bar that it won't let you down, with the fretful and funky "Stitched Up", co-written by John Mayer and Herbie Hancock.
Everyone's going to have their favourite track on this album - hearing a musical hero pushed to greater heights is an intensely moving experience. Paul Simon's "Do it for Your Love" may top the pile for his fans. On Still Crazy After All These Years (1990), this track was forgettable, and about as tasteful as the moustache Paul sported on the cover. On Possibilities, his vocals are stretched to breaking point, and Hancock's piano wanders like a ghost around the intense variation Simon sings on the original melody. The resultant performance is heartbreaking.
Many other versions of songs radically improve on the original versions. Sting and Herbie do Sting's "Sister Moon" with restlessly shifting beats, and his touch gives Damien Rice and Lisa Hannigan's version of the pleading "Don't explain" an exhausted, modernised beauty. Annie Lennox is menacingly miserable on "Hush Hush Hush". "When Love Comes to Town" finally recovers from U2's 1990 butchering, as Joss Stone and Jonny Lang do it with punch and plenty of Gospel spirit.
Stevie Wonder's "I Just Called To say I love You" features Stevie himself on harmonica solo. The reinterpretation suggests a pathetic lover trying to get some attention, not the slick loverboy of the original. Some of his fans will hate this reinterpretation, but it may win him new admirers.
Only Christina Aguilera, for all her talents, doesn't fit into the impressive line-up - her diva-style performance of "A Song for You" is just loudly boring.
The final track, like the first, was written collaboratively by some of the performers - Trey Anastasio, Herbie, and Cyro Baptista - and finishes the set with an instrumental jazz suite you could rock a hammock to.
- Jean Barker
GALLERYXtina, Joss, Annie, John, Angelique, Jonny, Sting, and others who star on this CD.
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