Last time Corea and Hancock toured extensively together before this tour began in March was 37 years ago.

That partnership of the two former Miles Davis players who had experienced great success with their own bands by then separately with Return to Forever and Headhunters drew on a different side of their artistry than jazz-rock fusion or jazz-funk to produce the expansive and intimate albums An Evening with Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea in Concert recorded in San Francisco; and later, switching the billing, CoreaHancock.

Coming on to the Barbican stage to a sea of applause, there was a little banter between the two, no tense beginning here. Herbie produced a Miles Davis impression, “You gotta look at the shoes”, he growled with a grin on his face, in his case a shiny smart casual pair, in Chick’s colourful Nike sneakers. Each player had an electronic keyboard by their side in addition to a concert grand and the concert began with not notes from any instrument but a rustle of sheet music from Herbie. “Did you get that, Bernie?” he asked the sound man, as the microphone picked up the sheafing of manuscript, the fanning paper merging with the unceremonious lifting up and banging down hard of the piano lid in a jagged fashion from Corea as if he was using bellows to stoke the fire.

The early part of the concert, there was no interval, it was one continuous set, was quite abstract with imagistic blocks of chordal experimentation and plenty of eye contact between the two. Neither indulged in question-and-response type statements that you sometimes get in overly elaborate two-piano concerts and this was more integrated and all the better for it but hard to read. More about shifting lines and the sharing of darting rhythmical ideas and hardly any riffs let alone beat in the early sections. Before they began the pair asked the audience if we wanted “something” (i.e. something prepared) or “nothing” (free improvisation), and certainly the early part was, as hinted by Herbie, the free improv side.

As the concert progressed there was more prepared material and compositions of their own that both could play in their sleep including some of Herbie’s most familiar and often played classics ‘Cantaloupe Island’ and later ‘Maiden Voyage’ to the applause of recognition from the sold out audience. And there were also some incredible keyboard samples intermingled among the grander piano gestures and tumbles of notes, Corea by now having taken off his light jacket to reveal a white T-shirt with a pink square design on the side, proceeding to trigger clave-like latinate percussion while Herbie conjured post-‘Rockit’-type whoops and chirrups and little boings and surprises from his keyboard rig.

The pair played with dim purply hues as their backdrop in the stage lighting and there was a mellow vibe partly encouraged by this. Some of the best moments were the quieter solo sections from Herbie and the way the pair deftly unpicked the theme from Rodrigo’s ‘Concierto de Aranjuez.’ Audience participation in the encore was subtly done with different sections assigned a note to form a big choral effect swelling as Chick and Herbie waved their arms like a conductor, “complex harmonies” Corea commented by way of introduction, and this actually worked well, the audience “sitting in with the duo” as Herbie kindly put it.

Stephen Graham

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