Herbie and Chick
Since I am now completing my book on Herbie Hancock and have recently begun a new one that includes Circle, Chick Corea’s contemporaneous band with Dave Holland, Anthony Braxton, and Barry Altschul, it would have been hard to imagine missing the recent Hancock/Corea duo concert in New York. Coming near the end of Chick Corea’s four-week-long 70th birthday stint at the Blue Note, this was an essentially improvised event. For me, this was a plus. The open nature of the show was something about which Herbie Hancock periodically made funny, self-effacing jokes. Early on, he alluded to not having a set list and later, he read the material on a page of notes by his side. It included messages about what he wanted to convey to the audience in emotional and experiential terms, but certainly no charts!
What I remember about the amorphous set list is a standard or two, Wayne Shorter’s Delores (previously played by Hancock in the late-1960s with the second Miles Davis Quintet), Thelonious Monk’s ‘Round Midnight, and as an encore, Corea’s La Fiesta. There was much loving give and take, unfolding textural material, segments where Corea played mostly inside the piano, fine examples of Hancock’s gifts as an accompanist, and at times, a little bombast. The upside of piano duets, particularly in the hands of pianists as gifted as these, is the potential to display the diversity of texture and sounds that pianos can provide; an upside is sonic overload, particularly in a small space. My guess is that there was a greater balance in the second set. As I understand it, their most recent previous duet concert took place around twenty-five years ago. One is allowed a set to find a shared stride. Clearly the two pianists had a great time and the sold-out house was more than appreciative. At times, overly enthusiastic audience members held up iPhones and every manner of digital camera right, in front of Herbie Hancock’s face; thankfully, he rolled with the punches in his usual generous and friendly manner.
This was the second show I attended during the Corea-fest. The previous week I heard Corea’s “From Miles,” with Wallace Roney on trumpet, Gary Bartz on alto saxophone, Jack DeJohnette on drums, and Eddie Gomez on bass. The soloists were all strong and the band played a set that spanned much of Miles’s career from the 1950s through the 1970s. A particular treat was hearing Bartz play for the first time in a few decades. I last heard him with McCoy Tyner’s band. Bartz displayed a wonderful wit and logic in his construction of solos. He offered a melodic fluidity spiced with periodic hints of Coltranesque growls and altissimo tips of the hat to gut bucket. His beautiful melodic sense remained in my memory for several days. And of course, Chick Corea was the consummate soloist and accompanist. The sheer range and breadth of what he brings to a setting like this is something remarkable.
On the book front, I am awaiting answers to interview questions I posed to Chick Corea. Chick has been quite generous to take time to do this during a particularly busy performance season. Personally I cannot imagine playing almost nightly for a straight month in a constantly changing series of bands and duets. This is quite a relentless, taxing undertaking. Then again, the opportunity to celebrate a life of collaborations with the likes of Bobby McFerrin, Corea’s Elektric Band, Return to Forever, Herbie Hancock, and others, is something not to miss. And clearly Chick Corea was up to the task.