REVIEW: Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea at the Barbican


Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea
©Edu Hawkins (www.eduhawkins.com)
Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea
(Barbican, July 7th 2015. Second night of two. Review by Sean Corby)


Super bands and all-star concerts often don’t live up to our expectations. There’s so much more to creating moments of magic than lumping a bunch of big name artists together. But last night, Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea, two undisputed giants of the music, were simply magnificent.

From the moment they entered the packed arena, with Herbie walking on stage backwards, an antic that his great friend and accomplice Wayne Shorter would have been proud of, and Chick looking casual and cheerful, there was an air of fun and playfulness about the proceedings. Hancock and Corea have enjoyed a connection since Herbie replaced Chick in Mongo Santameria’s band and Chick took Herbie’s chair in Miles’s Bitches Brew period outfit. Both have been responsible for extending the vocabulary and sonic palette of the music, they have both embraced technology, pioneered funk-rock excursions, and each has followed a spiritual path through which they have grown as human beings beyond music.

Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea
©Edu Hawkins (www.eduhawkins.com)

They began the performance with ‘nothing’. That is, we were told that they’d just play, and whatever came, came. Herbie sat at his laptop/keyboard set-up placed alongside his Faziola grand and began teasing out samples reminiscent of his glorious Rockit days, the atmospherics conjured images of celestial grandeur, interspersed with rhythmic interruptions and risqué samples of grunts and groans.

Then, with both positioned at their pianos, the magic began. Waves of complex, dissonant lines poured forth and gradually took melodic and harmonic shape, morphing into the beautiful Miles Davis composition Solar, made famous by another piano luminary, the great Bill Evans. There was a sense of joyfulness to the playing, and a seemingly effortless stream of swinging and soulful ideas. However, just when you got your foot tapping, the groove seemed to vaporise, and once again we were bathed in the elixir of sound!

This pattern continued throughout the evening, with audience members around me joining in a game of ‘name that tune’ as either titan would begin improvising, deftly leading the other into a form they both knew. We were treated to an extended Maiden Voyage, Herbie’s modal masterpiece, and of course a cosmic version of Cantaloupe Island before a rapturous ovation inspired two encores!


Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea
©Edu Hawkins (www.eduhawkins.com)

I came away knowing I’d been in the presence of two very special musicians who have paved the way for future generations and who, having lived and breathed this music, not just as an art form but as a culture, creating wonderful, complex music that can communicate with their audience more deeply than any words, set an example to all who aspire to being jazz artists.

6 comments:

  1. Was anyone at both nights? I was there on the first night (Monday) and found it lacking in anything terribly significant - basically an extended noodle-a-thon. Was if different on the Tuesday?

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    1. Mark I could not agree with you more. Having seen the pair individually and as a duo since circa '72 I left underwhelmed and frankly disappointed. They drank in the audience's adulation but offered up very little of substance in return, the first piece was an obtuse deconstruction of a Coltane piece and the second was a tow curling audience miming arbitrary sound schtick that would have played better to a music school's student body opposed to the Barbican's savvy jazz aficionados. The third number had flourishes of genius but not enough to keep everyone in the auditorium awaiting the subsequent encore. I stayed but found myself unable to muster joining in what I deem a undeserved standing ovation.

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    2. Yes, I went to both and Tuesday was much better. Monday lacked some energy and focus, but the Tuesday concert was outstanding.

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  3. My housemate went to the Monday said "Yes - they were wanky jazz - you would have loved it!" I went on the Tuesday and found it owed more to Poulenc and Stravinsky, like it was pastiche modernism. Jazz scales seem fructifying but classical scales are better observed in the breach than the observance I feel. I got the feeling they were egging each other on to take us as far into complex harmony and away from key centres as they could, which was pretty astonishing to be honest, if not entirely massively enjoyable. I love that sort of thing when players like Evan Parker go there, but it didn't seem completely a full use of their considerable talents, it *felt* pastiche rather than an extension of the jazz vocabulary. That's just a feeling. I stayed through it and enjoyed it more as it went on, and their shtick was hilarious. Their interplay was excellent too, but it all felt a bit grey and clever rather than bubbly technicolor. Quite insane they can play with such harmonic complexity just as casual as playing the blues. One inevitably slightly regrets going to these 'super concerts' and this was no exception. Newer piano players like Robert Mitchell and Alex Hawkins seem to blend in classical influence and rapturous jazz much more naturally than the old guard.

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  4. I'm pretty sure Monday was similar to Tuesday. Just as enjoyable. Wish I could've gone both nights.

    I guess beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

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