Chick Corea & Herbie Hancock – Civic Theatre

If ever there was needed any evidence to prove the power of music as a real-life fountain of youth, you only needed to watch these two jazz giants, both in their mid-seventies. The more they played together, the faster the years seemed to disappear.

There are few musicians active today with pedigrees as impressive as Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea. In addition to their own solo work, both keyboard players were members of the Miles Davis Quintet of the 1960s…Corea replacing Hancock in 1968…both formed ground-breaking fusion outfits in the early 70s…Hancock with Headhunters, Corea with Return To Forever and both started out in in the early 60s playing for Latin bandleader Mongo Santamaria (among others).

The duo first worked together professionally in the late 70s when they released several albums together and toured. This latest, and possible last, tour is the first time the two have hit the road together since the early eighties.

It was a night not to be missed.

With such a past to draw from, they could have easily played it safe and presented a programme of well-known jazz standards. Instead, the two men proved that the creative force is still with them, beginning the show with a 10-minute improvisational piece that left the audience beaming…thrilled to be in the presence of the creation, rather than the re-creation of such wonderful music.

There was no band involved, just Hancock and Corea seated at grand pianos facing each other, both armed with an additional electronic keyboard…Herbie played a Steinway, Chick a Yamaha.

The light dimmed at about 8:10pm and for, what seemed like a few minutes, the audience sat in absolutely silence, waiting for the two musicians to appear. It almost felt like the waiting was part of the performance, sort of a John Cage-ian intro.

Eventually the audience began to rustle and the two men strode on to the stage, Hancock in a grey suit, Corea in less formal denim. They both addressed the audience, giving a little background about themselves and then Herbie said, “Let’s do what we planned”. To which Chick responded, “What we’re gonna do is, ah…I have absolutely no idea”.

“That’s the plan”, explained Herbie, “we’re going to start with nothing and see if we can create something”.

This was their way of letting the crowd know that they were in for some serious improvisation.

The result wasn’t really jazz, or classical, or avant guarde, although there were elements of all three styles on display. It is best described as pure music.

I was fortunate enough to be sitting close enough to watch their faces as they played. The more they played, the bigger their smiles got as each listened to the other and responded musically.

At times it was like watching a tennis match…Herbie would serve up a riff or idea and Chick would knock one back to Herbie based on what he heard.

At first the vibe was rather staid…the audience didn’t want to interfere in any way with what was going on on stage. But after the second piece, Chick Corea’s Lineage, Corea told the crowd they were free to “make as much noise as you want”.

Fortunately they didn’t…but it did loosen things up a bit, as did the next number, where the two men took to their electronic keyboards and created a funky, sample-driven groove that had folks laughing and grooving in their seats.

Next, Herbie returned to the front of the stage to reminisce about a film he had seen as a child…1947’s Green Dolphin Street….which was set in New Zealand. The movie’s theme has become a jazz standard, and so the two played it, dedicating it to the audience.

There was more improvisation and bits of hits like Watermelon Man and Cantaloupe Island could be detected. For me, the highlight was a gorgeous version on Hancock’s Maiden Voyage. Clocking in at over 15 minutes, it found the two musicians taking a leisurely musical trip based around the tune’s familiar chord sequence.

For the encore, the two masters made good on a claim they had made earlier in the evening…that the audience was the third member of their trio. Corea divided the room, rehearsing the audience to sing in 5-part harmony as they then launch into another 15-minute musical trip based around Chick’s best-known tune, Spain.

By the end of the evening both the performers and the audience seemed to have dropped at least a few decades from their collective ages. It was smiles all around, as Herbie and Chick eventually left after shaking hands with anyone within reach.

What a night!

Marty Duda

Click here to view a gallery of concert photos by Veronica McLaughlin: