If you’re a musician or a music lover, there are certain advantages to living in London. By far the best and most useful of these is the significant amount of world class venues scattered around the city that attract a plethora of world class musicians from every stylistic reach of music. Arguably the most exciting of these gigs this year was Herbie Hancock’s and Chick Corea’s two appearances at the Barbican Centre. For the stalwart folk or classical music lovers that might be reading this, I think its fair to say that Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea are comparable to Nic Jones or Joan Baez of the Folk world and Daniel Barenboim or Lugiano Pavarotti of the Classical world. Between them they’ve played with legends such as Miles Davis, Stanley Clarke, Jonni Mitchel, John McLaughlin, Bobby McFerrin and Stevie Wonder to mention but a few.
I don’t quite know what I was expecting of this gig. I just knew it would be good. Would it be an evening of new music? Or of standards? Or of their greatest and best own pieces? Actually, what was played seemed to be mostly free improvisation on their pianos and keyboards. After the two musicians walked onto the stage and received their awesome roar of appreciation from the crowd, Hancock and Corea proceeded to have a chat amongst themselves and to the audience. Whilst the Barbican is a very large venue and well used to very formal events, it felt as if Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea owned the stage for the time they were on it and that they were inviting the roughly two thousand strong audience into their front room, making it very informal. The music started with Hancock improvising with a selection of vocal preset sounds on his keyboard with Corea following shortly after employing a selection of more orthodox sounds. The improvisational dialogue between the two of them was more reminiscent of a debate between two esteemed intellectuals with the subject matter sometimes being pre-decided and sometimes being brought up on the spot. It felt like watching and listening to the musical equivalent of a Christopher Hitchens or Sam Harris debate which made for a brilliantly thrilling performance that kept the audience on the edge of their seats for the entirety of the evening. A notable moment during the gig was when both musicians took their metaphorical hats off to one of the greats that they’d both played with by playing the tune, “Solar”, by Miles Davis.
When the set came to an end the musicians walked off the stage to the same shrieking and bellowing to which they had walked on to, only this time it was twice as raucous. After what must have been at least ten minutes of some of the most insistent and profuse clapping I’ve ever seen, the two musicians came back on to play a bit more. What started as another free improvisation merged into one of Hancock’s most celebrated compositions, Cantaloupe Island, which was followed by yet another blast of rapturous applause followed by some five part vocal harmony led by the players on the stage. Hancock and Corea proceeded to take turns in improvising with what is arguably Chick Corea’s most loved tune Spain, over the harmony that the audience provided.
The evening was short but no less incredible. Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea certainly left the audience wanting more but after two encores and an eternity of clapping I think both audience and musicians were a bit knackered. However, this was by far the best concert i’ve seen this year so far and I’m sure i’ll be boring people by talking about for the coming months.
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