Last year, the venerated jazz pianist Herbie Hancock released "Possibilities," an album of eclectic, headline-grabbing collaborations with artists like Christina Aguilera and John Mayer that was quickly forgotten by anyone who doesn't buy their music at Starbucks. To help us remember, directors Doug Biro and Jon Fine have cut together "Herbie Hancock: Possibilities," a documentary about the studio sessions that feels more like a behind-the-scenes CD promo than a fully realized film.
Instead of using the "Possibilities" sessions as an excuse to throw light on Hancock's nearly five decades of experiments in jazz, funk, R&B and hip-hop, Biro and Fine are mostly content to stay locked in the recording studio, jumping from one star-fueled session to the next. So we watch too much of a forced conversation with Aguilera (who brings the most attitude of any of Hancock's guests) and get none of his techno chatter with electronic music pioneer Brian Eno.
The film's best moments are when Hancock isn't collaborating, but theorizing on his own about the creative process. From his years playing with Miles Davis, he tells us, he learned how to go into "areas where we don't know intellectually or musically what the result is." "Possibilities" is compelling only when what Hancock calls the "dark room" of creativity unexpectedly shows up, like when Phish's Trey Anastasio tells him how much neo-hippie jam bands owe to Davis' "Jack Johnson" album (on which Hancock played), and when Hancock compares Irish singer Lisa Hannigan's note choices on "Don't Explain" to those of Davis himself.
Biro and Fine clearly had a treasure trove of footage from Hancock's past to work with — a mesmerizing set by the Miles Davis Quintet on German TV, film of Hancock's '70s futurist funk outfit the Headhunters, Hancock teaching kids about synthesizers on "Sesame "Street" — but "Possibilities" is too wedded to the "making-of-the-album" formula to do anything interesting with it. Throw in a tacked-on Buddhism trip to Hiroshima and Nagasaki and closing credits footage of actor Gina Gershon playing a Jew's harp, and "Possibilities" ends up as a testament to only one thing: a missed opportunity to explore one of the most visionary and influential careers in modern music.
'Herbie Hancock: Possibilities'
MPAA rating: Unrated.
A Magnolia Pictures release. Directors Doug Biro & Jon Fine.
Running time: 1 hour, 31 minutes.
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