There was a buzz at the Barbican last night, the kind that makes you feel like a child again, a ripple of electric energy that only comes with seeing the true greats. And they don’t come much greater than Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock, two jazz legends with strikingly similar trajectories. Both cut their teeth playing with Miles, both helped determine the direction of jazz-rock fusion and, though they’re now in their mid 70s, both have continued to push the boundaries.
A huge cheer went up as they took the stage, looking supremely relaxed, with Hancock thanking the crowd and Corea declaring it a privilege to play with his “buddy and musical inspiration”. Their setlist brought some crowd-pleasing moments, too. The unmistakeable bassline of “Cantaloupe Island” was greeted with spontaneous applause, and there was a superb reimagining of the Hancock classic “Maiden Voyage”, which began with gently padding chords before opening out into a knotty groove, with both men leaning into the cadences and Hancock really giving it some, through gritted teeth.
In between came extended passages of improvised interplay as they faced one another across two acoustic and two electric pianos. There were digital wobbles, murmurs and sighs, rolled chords and tumbling motifs that called to mind Stravinsky, and folk melodies that suggested the influence of Bartók.
Sometimes these interactions bordered on the uncanny. They lingered together on melodies and stopped dead without so much as a look. Interjecting stabs landed with pinpoint precision – as if each man knew exactly where the other was headed – and they seemed to delight in reharmonising each other’s lines and setting up fiendish, interlocking grooves and rhythmic riddles for one another to solve.
It didn’t always work. “Cantaloupe Island” was a little cluttered and unsteady at times. Some keyboard tinkering from Hancock, in which he experimented with a few vaguely orgasmic vocal samples, prompted sniggers, and there were moments when the crowd seemed to want a few more tunes that they recognised.
Corea acknowledged as much when they returned for the encore, settling on “Spain” and inviting us to sing back progressively complex fragments of the melody. “They seem real musical, this audience,” he joked. “They must be to still be here after all that!”
Even so, it was great to see that Hancock and Corea have lost none of their musical curiosity and there was more than enough brilliance on display to ensure that the post-concert atmosphere matched the pre-gig buzz. As the two legends left the stage a group of boys ran down to the front to shake hands. Giddy and still a little star-struck, I think we all felt a bit like joining them.
— Thomas Rees