At the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts on Sunday, March 15
Those who came to hear two jazz geezers play their greatest hits weren’t disappointed, and those who hoped for more were thrilled.
It was a pleaure, for sure, to hear Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea tackle the former’s “Watermelon Man”, “Cantaloupe Island”, and “Maiden Voyage”, along with the latter’s “Spain”. (Corea is the more assertive pianist, but Hancock’s the one with the compositional chops.)
But what made Sunday’s concert one to remember is that the two former radicals showed that they’re still vital—and even, in some ways, on the cutting edge.
That was apparent from the very beginning. After acknowledging a standing ovation from the crowd, the 74-year-old Hancock settled himself behind a sleek Fazoli grand while the slightly younger Corea mimed throwing away his sheet music before taking his place at the Yamaha. Then they began to converse, interpolating familiar rhythmic and melodic motifs into an improvised framework that, despite a couple of clashing harmonies, showed that they were very much of one mind.
Turning to a pair of electronic keyboards, they took a brief detour into outer space, but quickly came to the consensus that given two fine pianos and the Chan’s impeccable design, they’d be better off playing acoustically—a decision they stuck with for the rest of the night.
Corea’s “Lineage” came next, a piece that hinted at their shared influences while highlighting their differences. At times, the two sounded like a full band, particularly when Hancock provided bass lines and chords over which Corea, who has a drummer’s physicality, contributed percussion and melody. A long, expressive take on “Maiden Voyage” followed, and this, in turn spoke to the keyboardists’ legacy.
The next major jazz pianist to appear in their wake was Keith Jarrett, and I doubt I was the only person in the audience who wondered whether Jarrett developed at least part of his approach by superimposing Corea’s style over Hancock’s. As another Miles Davis alumnus, he certainly would have had ample opportunity for study.
The most astonishing moment of the concert, though, came when the two traded improvised rhythms, Corea rapping his knuckles on the piano while Hancock beatboxed into a microphone. Settling on a groove, they then launched into a multifaceted free improvisation that was also a capsule lesson in the creative process—how something magnificent can grow out of a small, spontaneous impulse magnified by active minds and generous hearts.
Jazz musicians have been exploring the same terrain for nearly a century, but instantaneous creation is still radical. Hancock and Corea don’t need to prove their own avant-garde credentials—between them, they’ve changed the face of music multiple times—but it’s good to know that they’re still out there and creatively alive.