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Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea at the Philadelphia Academy of Music

Victor L. Schermer By

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Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea
Academy of Music
Philadelphia, PA
April 11, 2015

Pianists Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea are mega-multi-Grammy winning jazz legends, with active careers spanning over half a century. In the 1960s, they contributed to the post-bop revolution in jazz, and have been involved in almost all the developments since then, whether hard bop or jazz fusion, and specifically for Hancock, modal jazz, funk, and R&B; and for Corea, Latin, avant garde, and progressive rock. In the late '60s, each served as pianist for ground-breaking Miles Davis Quintets, and got to know each other then, while pursuing independent careers. In 1974, they did their first duet concert in Chicago, and they have reunited periodically ever since. Currently, they are hopscotching on tour together, and on this early spring night they stopped in at Philadelphia's Academy of Music the day after their concert at Carnegie Hall in New York. Hancock's 75th birthday was the day after the Philadelphia show, on April 12. Corea is less than a year younger, so perhaps it was the awareness of the September of their lives that led them to reunite this time.

Hancock and Corea have been in the limelight for much of the history of modern jazz, so they attracted a full house of enthusiastic fans of several generations from WWII vets to hippies to yuppies and millennials, all of whom cheered them on enthusiastically as soon as they walked on stage. You sensed immediately that it was not just about the music, but also a show business event and a gathering of the faithful. Such an agenda was both the strength and pitfall of such an occasion. The most spontaneous creative jazz occurs in smaller, intimate settings where the musicians have more freedom to experiment. Here, in a big platform with two freshly polished Steinway concert grand pianos side-by-side in a lavish nineteenth century music hall, they knew they had to deliver something celebratory to the audience.

They succeeded admirably in doing so. To get things going, they conversed with each other and the audience in light and humorous exchanges ("How do you know what we're going to do when we don't know what we're going to do?" "You thought we were joking,") But when they sat down at their pianos, each an electronic keyboard by his side, things became very serious. Both Hancock and Corea are capable of intense concentration, and they played in perfect coordination with one another. They delivered the music brilliantly, and at times with beauty and finesse, but, as suggested above, they didn't try out many new ideas or concepts. However, when they turned on occasion to the electronic keyboards/synthesizers, they did take some chances. There was one piece dubbed "Painful" where they spontaneously produced an array of sounds that would have made Stockhausen do a back flip. Apparently Hancock had picked up a troubled emotion from the audience, and they went with it. For the most part, however, they stayed within established structures.

The first piece of the set was freely improvised without a pre-selected tune, and based on French impressionist harmonies, like those of Debussy, which set much of the tone for jazz of the swing and bebop eras. Straight away, they revealed one reason why they like to work with each other: Corea's percussive style provides a perfect complement to Hancock's literalness and emphasis on chord changes. Together, they sounded just as they did in their early duo concerts: a fine concordance of two musicians with different styles who yet work together as if one instrument.

Then, with the standards "You'd Be So Easy To Love" and "Blue Monk," they musically seduced the audience into their sphere (which seemed to be their intent all evening). And, after going synthesizer-wild with the aforementioned "Painful," they returned to their pianos, for an extended freely improvised piece called "Lineage." It wasn't clear where the name came from, but they seemed to be honoring their own musical lineages in the way that they varied their improvisational styles and strategies throughout the piece.

When it came to Hancock's own standard, "Maiden Voyage," he gave a lot of room for Corea to do what he wanted with it, and the result was stunning, energetic, and quite different from Hancock's way of rendering the tune as a laidback ballad. Throughout the evening, it felt like Corea was setting the direction for where the music was going. And this seemed to be right, since there is no one who can "make it up as you go along" better than him.

There was a second spontaneous improv, followed by a (new?) tune called "Implications," with perfectly coordinated rapid passages, and then a terrific performance of Hancock's "Cantaloupe Island" (a funky sequel to "Watermelon Man") where Corea took full advantage of the tune's Latin feel.

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