Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock

Concert Hall, June 1

Chick & Herbie res
Photo: Kim Densham.

On paper it looked a winning formula: two of the most admired and influential jazz pianists of the last half century, two grand pianos and a wide open musical sky. The possible blot was that Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock have clocked up at least a dozen Australian tours between them, and both have run hot and cold. Would the two-piano format propel them toward their brilliant best or drag them into those occasional mires of mediocrity that afterwards hardly overtax the memory?

Corea was perhaps more at risk in this regard, but here he was often magnificent, listening so intently as to extrapolate the merest fragment of a Hancock motif in a score of ways. Hancock’s feel for harmony, rhythmic groove and space, meanwhile, provided perfect counterpoints to Corea’s flair for melody, touch and playfulness.

They chatted interminably to us before beginning, although there was a certain charm in the verbal dialogue seamlessly becoming a musical one as they began with a free improvisation that idiomatically carried hints of Ravel and Debussy. It also set the tone for the evening, which was one of constant interaction rather than swapping soloing and accompanying roles.

The set-list was devised on the run and Hancock’s compositions predominated over Corea’s on this occasion, although the latter’s Spain was inevitably featured. The potential clutter of deploying 20 fingers and 176 keys was actually realised on parts of Dolphin Dance, with a very free reading of Hancock’s greatest creation, Maiden Voyage, much more successful. Here the pair made extraordinarily liquid music and often sounded like one pianist, which in its way was more miraculous than generating some multi-limbed, supersonic monster. The piece culminated in interlaced showers of delicate upper-register notes that will certainly live in the memory.

Both players also had a synthesizer at their disposal, but the one piece on which they used them was a mere bagatelle compared with the wonders emanating from Hancock’s Fazioli and Corea’s Yamaha concert grands.