AN EVENING WITH HERBIE HANCOCK AND CHICK COREA, MAY 2015

The Melbourne International Jazz Festival began in 1998, co-incidentally the year that the Ms Connection/Vinyl Connection international festival kicked off too. Seventeen years on, both are still going strong though artists in both arenas seem to be a touch more, er, mature. Seasoned. Venerable. Ah shit. We’re all older.

Nevertheless, when we noticed that the opening night of the 2015 Festival featured the twin-legend attack of pianists Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea we wasted no time in tottering off to the local Pawn Broker to mortgage the family jewels and thus secure two tickets to this once in a lifetime event. That the curtain-raiser concert was exactly one day after the anniversary of the first Connection connection and two days after the birth date of Miles Davis confirmed that all the portents were good. And so were the seats. Five rows from the front in the massive and acoustically pristine Hamer Hall.

IMG_5381

Just a few minutes after the advertised starting time, a trim, casually dressed Chick Corea ambled on stage smiling genially at the audience from under a frizz of curly silver-grey hair. He was followed at a more measured pace by Herbie Hancock, whose black polo-neck shirt uncannily evoked a retired man-of-the-cloth. Given that Mr Corea is 73 and Mr Hancock 75, both could be forgiven for preferring to put their feet up on the piano stool at home rather than braving the chilly Melbourne evening, but here they were, welcoming a packed house and settling themselves down for an evening of keyboard exploration.

The two Yamaha grand pianos were arranged in a yin-yang configuration so that the pianists were facing each other and offering us a profile view. At right-angles to each grand was an electronic keyboard. Herbie’s was a Korg Kronos, supported by an Apple laptop; the branding on Chick’s synth was not visible.

I used the word ‘exploration’ and that is certainly how the concert began, with questing, ethereal music reaching out into the vast concert-hall globe. Herbie fired some off-kilter electronic percussion from his synth, Chick some glass-shard tinkles from his; both men slid between electronic and acoustic instruments as the music moved them, though always returning to the pianos as home base. I’m afraid I cannot report the earlier titles as the first piece I recognised was the beautiful Hancock composition “Maiden Voyage”. From the audience response, we were not the only listeners who found that lovely repeated melodic phrase a helpful touchstone for the exploratory dual piano excursions.

This was followed by an extended version of “Solar”, a Miles Davis piece that has been around since the mid-50s. Taking a bow after this item, HH and CC acknowledged Miles for his influence on jazz and on them personally and pointed out the just-passed anniversary of his birth. Then Herbie suggested that it was time to find “the fruit seller”. A handful of the audience – your correspondent included, I’m afraid – applauded enthusiastically. “You’ll know this one,” I whispered to Ms C. And many people did, really digging the rolling, infectious groove of “Watermelon Man”. This two-piano version was wonderfully rhythmic and exhilarating and was justly rewarded with thunderous applause.

After a bit of somewhat hokey badinage about having “played everything” and the silly rituals of encores, the musicians returned to their stools for the extended finale of “La Fiesta”.

The audience was invoked in two quite different ways in this audience participation climax. The first was the clever and quite spine-tingling creation of a thousand voice chord. Chick divided the audience into five sections, allocating each a note which he prompted, one note at a time, to build a wonderfully rich and resonant human angel-breath. Corea used the choir-chord as delicate yet powerful punctuation for “La Fiesta”; it really was quite wonderful.

The other audience bit was some call-and-response scat singing, where Corea played phrases and invited the audience to repeat them. Following the delicate use of people power, this didn’t work so well. It’s sort of fun/funny to hear a few hundred brave souls try to replicate an intricate piano run but the entertainment palls pretty quickly; this sort of jazz isn’t sing-a-long and it wasn’t that sort of concert. Though I’ll concede that as a “leave ’em laughing” gambit it seemed to pay off; there was plenty of love in the standing ovation HH and CC received after the final chords faded, applause we gladly participated in.

As the artists ambled along the stage apron, grinning and shaking a few hands, there was that dual experience of having enjoyed witnessing two master musicians able to conjure synchronistic magic from their keyboards, tempered ever-so-slightly by the not-quite-avoidable sense that you’ve been show-bizzed. Still, that didn’t stop me edging forwards to shake the hands of Herbie and Chick. Thanks chaps. It was a fine anniversary.

Photograph by Michael Findlay

Photograph by Michael Findlay

*

IMG_5379

Since the concert I’ve been spinning the double LP An Evening With Herbie Hancock & Chick Corea In Concert, 1978, released on CBS. This works pretty well as both and indication and souvenir of the concert we enjoyed. There is the extraordinary empathy between the pianists, there are sections alternately rhythmic and soaring. The percussive sounds elicited by Corea from the strings of his piano are the only non-keyboard rhythms, but it’s none the worse for eschewing electronic sounds. The final side, comprising “Maiden Voyage” and “La Fiesta”, is perhaps the most satisfying (and generous too – a massive 25+ minutes) but it is all fine, from the standard “Someday My Prince Will Come” and a vampish “Liza” (a Gershwin tune) to the extended Herbie solo outing “February Moment”. Tellingly, the “La Fiesta” version here does not include any audience singing and is probably more likely to get repeat spins because of that. Somewhere, I’m sure I do have a recording where Chick does his audience singing thing on this piece, but I’m damned if I can find it. Must be getting old.

IMG_5380

18 comments

  1. HYLM.
    Awesome dates for commencing the induction of Ajay (my first grandson) into the world; arrived 6 am, 29/5/2015.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Congratulations! Hope everyone is doing well.

      Like

      1. All well.
        PS: The first playing of IASW (in lieu of baptism) is planned for next Sunday.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. An excellent baptism indeed. (Though you wouldn’t really want Miles as a role model).

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Lovely lovely stuff Bruce, in every way. Two legends in one night too, although I don’t have any Corea solo stuff – where to begin?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. A question to make a Corea fan salivate! Or run away.

    I’ve only a modest holding of about 32 albums. The early ‘pure’ jazz stuff is inventive and sometimes demanding (ARC, Now He Sings…), the albums with vibe master Gary Burton are ethereal and often pretty (that’s vibes and el piano for you), the Return To Forever fusion material is fantastic but might not be your bag. The Elektric Band has an 80s sheen over excellent playing; avoid anything too directly L Ron H…

    So my suggestion as a starting place (and it was mine, so make of that what you will) is the Chick Corea album that gave the name to the subsequent ensemble: Return To Forever. (Cover featured here)

    Like

  4. Not familiar with either the music of these folks at all, but Lordy this is an incredible post. Thanks for sharing and for throwing these folks right into my musical radar. Really pretty splendid.

    Like

    1. Thank you very much J. I don’t get out much and write concert reviews but rarely so your enjoyment is a lovely reward! Have thought about writing some sort of gateway to jazz piece…

      Like

      1. The only jazz stuff I’ve heard is the obvious stuff – Miles, Satchmo, Coltrane, etc. Recently I’ve been digging Django and Monk and a bunch of others. Such a wide range of styles, textures and colours … it gets a bit overwhelming for a chap like me.

        Like

        1. Sure. It’s a whole world with a hundred year history. But the stuff you mention is all good solid jazz motherload. And all that really matters is that you enjoy it! Good stuff.

          Like

  5. Nice one, Bruce. never seen Herbie Hancock live but saw Chick in a smallish auditorium in Johannesburg with his acoustic ensemble many years ago. A night to remember as they say.
    Smashing post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Curious what period. Do you recall the year?

      Like

      1. Corea came here in 1982. He even recorded an album while on tour called Again and Again, would you believe it? . I never knew this and just found it on Wiki while searching for the year he played here.
        I couldn’t remember if it was ’82 or ’83
        Stan Clarke and Al di Meola also played SA a few years back: the Cape Town Jazz festival; but I couldn’t get down there. Huge disappointment.
        Though I did see Stan Clarke in England at Eric’s in Liverpool on the original Schooldays Tour.
        Eric’s is one tiny club!
        Near the old Cavern where the Beatles played.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Oh yeah, and also since I’m on a VC commenting jag this afternoon, I’ll mention that I’ve never given Chick his due. I’ve been intrigued ever since being enthralled by the first three Al DiMeola solo albums as they came out way back when and thinking I needed to explore Return to Forever’s ’74-’76 albums to work backwards on Al. Never followed through though. Hmmm.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Quite high on my list of albums I’d like to write about is Romantic Warrior by RTF, perhaps the best ever blending of jazz-rock and progressive tendencies. I love it even amongst the outstanding RTF mid-70s catalogue.

      PS. I really enjoy it when a comment crops up on an older post. So thanks for spending time here. ‘Preciate it.

      Like

  7. What a wonderful way to kick off a relationship. No wonder you’re still cookin. Just the opening of your piece with the boys coming out on time would put me in a good mood. Seen both these guys but never together. I could imagine the great music and live interplay they would bring. Don”t have this album but if I see it I will pick it up (Along with about a thousand other jazz albums). Great piece Bruce!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks CB. Would have liked to have caught HH in his jazz-funk heyday!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. CB was just in the right place at the right time.

        Liked by 1 person

Comments and responses welcome for all posts: present or past. Go on, join in!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: