Article excerpt

Too often, George Gershwin's tunes are played like frozen church music--cold and existing on some other, more perfect plane. By flat, Gershwin is, basically, repeatedly and monotonously performed the same way every time, and how you feel about that depends on your propensity for just one more version of "I got plenty of nothin' and nothin's plenty for me." The time-space continuum was in serious need of disruption. Enter Herbie Hancock.

With his unique interpretation of Gershwin's World (Verve), 1998 Grammy Award winner Hancock sets us free from the humdrum. The absence of the "new" in Gershwin's music beyond the epic 1958 Miles Davis-Gil Evans Porgy and Bess jazz collaboration is an indication of how difficult it is to transform the familiar. But for Herbie? No problem! Stevie Wonder, Joni Mitchell, Kathleen Battle, Wayne Shorter, Chick Corea, Ron Carter and Stanley Clarke, as well as the djembe and the talking drum, make classy contributions as the deftly original Hancock breaks new ground.

In Gershwin's World, Hancock includes the music of Duke Ellington, James P. Johnson and Maurice Ravel for a broader view of the era, as well as that of Gershwin's mentor, William Christopher Handy.

Dizzy Gillespie early on predicted what he called "the unification of the music." That day is upon us. An exercise in contrast and compatibility, Mali to Memphis: An African-American Odyssey (Putumayo) brings together African-American and Malian musicians in a compilation of imaginative flow. John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters and Taj Mahal are among a noble American contingent connected to the artistry of Lobi Traore, Baba Dian, Amadou and Mariam and Habib Koite Mall to Memphis attests to the universality of human experience.

From the first, plaintive note of Ma Ya (Putumayo), the timeless mysteries of African string sounds escort you on a gentle journey through the Malian sonic world of Habib Koite and Bamada. …