LJF Review: Herbie Hancock at the Royal Festival Hall

Herbie Hancock. Royal Festival Hall. LJF 2012.
 Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2012. All Rights Reserved.

Herbie Hancock 
(Royal Festival Hall. 12th November 2012. LJF. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

Herbie Hancock’s show “Plugged In. A Night of Solo Explorations,” heard at the Royal Festival Hall tonight, on the final leg of a European tour, has a reassuring sense of direction. It culminates for a first time with the maestro strutting around the stage with the Roland AX-Synth keytar around his neck playing Watermelon Man. Then he walks off, and as the applause begging him to come back continues, an empty stage resounds to the bass riff to Chameleon, and a youthful 72-year old bounces back to soak up the adulation, to cruise through his encore, and be rewarded with a final standing ovation.

Before we got there tonight, there had been one moment of real uncertainty along the way, when the electronics packed up and a layered synthesized groove stopped, quite suddenly. But that was a moment taken in the performer’s stride. A flick of a switch from a helper brought the equipment back to life, and it was back to the party.

Herbie Hancock. Royal Festival Hall. LJF 2012.
Photo Credit: Roger Thomas
The beginning of the evening;s journey had brought acoustic delight. “I’m going to start on acoustic piano. Is that OK?” asked Hancock. He played Wayne Shorter’s Footprints, starting with a spacious and elegant introduction, then treating the tune and its line and harmony and form with complete freedom, but always keeping a logic, a direction, and using every gradation of the Fazioli piano’s considerable dynamic range, and with fascinating inner voices always giving a persuasive shape. It was masterly, and brought to mind Daniel Barenboim sitting in almost exactly the same spot playing all the Beethoven sonatas four years ago. Another, equally beautiful and sonorous acoustic adventure was a free treatment of a standard Someone to Watch over me, the final quiet cadences deeply satisfying, Hancock holding the audience completely spellbound.

There were other explorations too. “Why do I have five iPads?” he asked teasingly. It didn’t take long to find the answer. The slowest, most symphonic moments came towards the end of an elaborate treatment of Maiden Voyage (“It starts as Maiden Voyage, and after that it’s just going to be Voyage” , Hancock said. Towards its end it was music of breadth and infinite reach such as would accompany a spaceship – on a very long journey indeed.

Herbie Hancock’s show tonight lasted over two hours. Some people will always fidget, and the first appearance of the AX synth at the front of the stage brought out a barrage of flash photography, but I’m sure I was far from alone in finding that the time had passed rapidly, and very satisfyingly. 

Herbie Hancock seen and heard like this, completely on his own terms, alone on stage,  is a musical force and presence without equal.
Herbie Hancock. Royal Festival Hall. LJF 2012.
 Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2012. All Rights Reserved.

Categories: miscellaneous

2 replies »

  1. We were amazed that you got this review out so quickly! We got back from this great concert and logged on before midnight to find your review was already posted – well done, LondonJazz – an excellent review, too.

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