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Herbie Hancock at the Barbican

“At 83 years young.. a true superstar with a proper keytar-carrying-star-jump.” Herbie Hancock at the 2023 Montreal Jazz Festival. Photo credit Victor Diaz Lamich/FIJM

Herbie Hancock
(Barbican Hall. 28 July 2023. First night of two. Review by Lavender Sutton)

“Let’s get this right. You are going to ‘review’ Herbie Hancock?” The look of bamboozlement on a musician’s face when I explained earlier this week where I would be on Friday night follows me around. And let’s face it, the whole idea that a ‘reviewer’ gets to write about whether Herbie Hancock was actually any good (or not) does carry more than a hint of the presumptuous, not to say preposterous about it…

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Supposing the lineup or project he was presenting was unusual or a bit outrageous, one might be able to comment about how the change was perceived but in this case, everything was just exactly as expected. Herbie on piano and keys, James Genus on bass, Jaylen Petinaud on drums, Lionel Loueke on guitar and voice and Terence Blanchard playing trumpet.

These musicians are all established artists in their own right and a wonderful mix of generations, nations and talents, with Petinaud at ‘not even 25’ and Loueke from Benin, West Africa, Blanchard who is known for his movie scores, and Genus who seems to have played with everyone from Bill Evans to the Saturday Night Live Band, Hancock has created quite the super-band.

From the moment he set foot on the stage, Hancock had the audience eating out of his hand. His character proves to be one of the many components to why everyone loves him so much. He warned the audience that things were going to ‘start a little weird’ as they manoeuvred through soundscapes and snippets of familiar tunes in an incredibly interesting (not weird at all) Overture that featured Loueke singing and playing – showing his prowess and creativity.

From this moment forward, the concert was the most satisfying selection of music. Everything that one hopes they’ll hear Hancock play. Pandering maybe? But who cares? It was wonderful. They played Footprints as a tribute to friend and colleague Wayne Shorter and Blanchard 

Next up, a funky tune entitled Actual Proof from the 1974 album Thrust and Petinaud got to show off his incredible skills riffing and playing with Herbie with a grin so big it actually knocked his hat off. Come Running to Me from a later album called Sunlight, where Hancock explained what a vocoder device is and treated everyone to his words translated through his keyboard. Playfully, he finished the song by talking to the audience through the vocoder and made a short but very moving speech about Humanity and how we should all treat one another with respect.

Genus played an impressive improvised solo tune on his 5-string bass using a loop pedal and just when you thought the evening couldn’t get any better, Hancock whipped out his keytar, came around the piano to stand with the rest of the band and ‘rocked out’ (if you’re Herbie Hancock you can) on Secret Sauce, and finished with the ever favourite HeadHunters Chameleon. 

He received several standing ovations and graciously complimented the audience on being so welcoming and generous but how could they not? At 83 years young, he finished the evening like a true superstar with a proper keytar-carrying-star-jump to end the final note. 

LINK: Further events at the Barbican during the EFG London Jazz Festival

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