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The Imagine Project holds no surprises for followers of pianist Herbie Hancock's recent work. His latest album uses the formula of his previous two - Possibilities, from 2005, and River: The Joni Letters, which won him a Grammy for Album of the Year in 2007. The guest vocalists across those two albums read like who's who: Christina Aguilera, Norah Jones, Annie Lennox, Paul Simon, Sting, Tina Turner…
While The Imagine Project aims to continue in similar vein, with Pink, Seal and John Legend all present, it has a more global perspective, including Brazilian singer-songwriter Ceu and Colombian rocker Juanes. Los Lobos join the Tuareg group Tinariwen on their rhythmic groove Tamatant Tilay, which seamlessly segues into Bob Marley's Exodus.
Such cross-fertilisations give the album the feel of a melting pot, yet the two most immediately effective tracks are also the simplest: Lisa Hannigan - backed by The Chieftains - makes The Times They Are A-Changin' sound unbelievably gorgeous, while James Morrison oozes soul on Sam Cooke's impassioned classic A Change Is Gonna Come. The choice of songs hints that the target audience is baby boomers.
Among a distinguished cast of instrumentalists, including Jeff Beck on guitar and Marcus Miller on bass, Hancock is the only ever-present on all tracks. But most of the time, he casts himself in the role of first-rate accompanist, giving few indications of his true talent as a pianist in the way he did on River: The Joni Letters.
The final track, The Song Goes On, is an effective East-West collaboration combining Anoushka Shankar's sitar with contrasting vocals from Chaka Khan and Indian film singer KS Chithra. The key element that makes it special is the inclusion of Wayne Shorter's pithy interjections on soprano saxophone alongside Hancock on piano, the most jazz on any track here.
Ironically, in 2005 Hancock was elected to the Jazz Hall of Fame, since when the jazz aspects of his music have waned. Although The Imagine Project is entertaining and engaging, its jazz content is limited. Fans will hope that the 70-year-old still has another great jazz album in him - preferably alongside Shorter.