I love that stuff like this happens in Berkeley. I love that i can just decide to see some world-famous musicians and a few minutes later, i'm there.
The music was interesting and pretty strange to me at first. It was clear even before they started playing that things were going to be a little unusual — there were a couple of computers on stage (they looked like Powerbooks) up there with the grand piano and saxophone and drum set. Herbie opened the first number by turning to his computer and typing something that triggered some atmospheric sounds and babbling noises. Then he played a synth keyboard, which was sitting on top of the piano, and mixed in some other sounds. He fooled around with his synth and his computer for a while before he got to actually playing the piano, and it turned out to be one of those special grand pianos that doubles as a MIDI controller — it had a little yellow light over each key that flashed when the key was struck. Sometimes the piano keys played through the real piano, sometimes they triggered synthesized sounds, and sometimes they did both.
I have to admit that some of the music didn't make sense to me. Sometimes it caught me and carried me away, i could appreciate the harmony and rhythm, and i felt the emotions coming through; at other moments it sounded random, aimless, or more like playing around with the computers and gadgets. The music kept flowing back and forth between apparent randomness and regular structure. The drummer did a great job, though, and kept me grooving along for most of it. All five of the performers put in some fantastic solos, perhaps the most dazzling and intense ones played by Michael Brecker and Herbie Hancock.
At one point, Brecker picked up a device about the size and shape of a flattened bottle of wine and explained that it was an "iwi", a wind-driven synthesizer. What a fantastic concept! Finally, an electronic instrument with a natural way of playing each note with colour and emotion. It's small, light, and wireless; i wondered if there were accelerometers in it to allow the musician to create effects by moving or shaking the instrument. Out of the iwi spilled a broad range of sounds — not only synthesized imitations of traditional Western wind instruments but also a didgeridoo, a Chinese wu-er, a techno drum kit, and a variety of sampled sounds. The iwi had a built-in recording function that let Brecker loop and mix with himself.
The crowd was clearly thrilled; throughout the show there were hoots and applause and shouts of "Yeah!" from the audience. Though slated to play for only 90 minutes, they kept going for a little over two hours. They were rewarded with tremendous applause and a standing ovation that continued for some time until they returned to the stage for an encore.
Barely 5 minutes after we got home, as we were telling a few of our housemates about the concert, Herbie Hancock came up on the stereo again.