Review & Photos | Herbie Hancock & Chick Corea | Boston

By Andy Kahn Apr 14, 2015 1:40 pm PDT

Words by: Andrew Bruss | Images: Robert Torres

Herbie Hancock & Chick Corea :: 4.12.15 :: Symphony Hall :: Boston, MA

Seeing Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea go head to head in Boston’s Symphony Hall was like watching Michael Jordan dunk or Bill Clinton seduce an entire audience: There’s nothing like seeing the elite of the elite do what they do better than anyone living.

Recent years have seen Hancock and Corea pleasing the masses. The former has toured with guitar, drums, bass and almost always ended the show with a lengthy “Chameleon,” while the latter took Return to Forever back on the road a few summers back to rave reviews.

During the late 1970’s, at the height of the jazz-fusion movement, the two biggest names in the game toured as an acoustic duo. A pair of grand pianos facing each other was all they needed. As part of the Celebrity Series, Hancock and Corea brought the format back to the acoustic Mecca of the Western Hemisphere for an hour and a half performance that incorporated a Corea-conducted rendition of “Happy Birthday” in honor of Hancock turning 75. The two had sheet music on stage but they kept saying they had no idea what they were doing or where they were going with things so it was difficult to ascertain what degree of the performance was composed and what was improvised. 

Corea played more notes but that’s not to say he gave the better performance. It sounded like Hancock was drawing the outline and Corea was coloring it in. They each had their turn to shine but were at their best when they were synced up and pushing each other to even greater heights. 

The single most beautiful, inspiring and impressive element of this performance was their on-stage communication. A concert is a conversation between musicians. In most Western music, drummers and bassist’s talk through their instrument about the current state of affairs, effectively laying a foundation that gives their guitarists a platform to tell a 6-stringed story. A brief chunk of the set featured the two players on synths, facing opposite directions, but when these cats sat down at their grand pianos, eyes locked on each other, the musical product was beyond comprehension in the best way possible. 

These musicians, as communicators, effectively have the richest vocabularies of anyone else who considers themselves a peer. The cross-stage conversation these guys had sounded more like a conversation between village wise men. At other points, the duality of their style led to a conversation that felt more like having an angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other. The fact that Corea was singing the notes he played even made it look like he was speaking the music.

Although a live album a generation old inspired the performance, Hancock and Corea’s performance at Symphony Hall felt like more of a risk than anything either had done in years. These two have made careers out of pushing musical boundaries and flipping the bird at convention. That said, they are so astronomically successful that they can tour with hired guns and steal the show every night. 

It’s a rare occurrence in any field to see the professional elite so willing to be challenged by their equals in front of an audience. Not only were they willing, but they thrived off of it. That’s what really makes these guys great. It’s not their technical proficiency, record sales or awards (although these things count), but their desire to be pushed outside of their comfort zones. They could easily coast on their past for the rest of their lives, but Hancock and Corea are still looking for an even higher mountain to climb. If their fans are lucky, they’ll find one.

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