April 14, 2015 was a special day for me. I got to hear two of my greatest personal heroes together on the same stage doing what they do best: creating music.
In 1978 Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea embarked on a tour which culminated in a recording of live piano duo performances that has become a classic, perhaps even a touchstone, to which all jazz piano duos are compared. Nearly 40 years later they’ve reunited.
Luckily I had the opportunity to witness them live at a sold-out show in Massey Hall.
With the exception of Hancock’s classic Maiden Voyage they performed none of the repertoire from their 1978 release. They opened with a free-form excursion showcasing their remarkable simpatico playing, their ability to move through dense and complex harmonic and melodic structures together seamlessly as though they were four hands using one brain, yet still distinctly projecting their own very unique and individual musical personalities in the process.
Next up was Cole Porter’s Easy to Love, which featured each musician taking turns exploring numerous variations on the timeless melody while continually re-imagining the harmony of the piece. Other tunes included Lineage, a Corea tribute to Hancock, as well as the Hancock classic Cantaloupe Island, Miles’ All Blues and, as would be expected, Corea’s anthem Spain --which involved a very fun and creative audience participation component similar to Corea’s Grammy-winning version on Trilogy.
What struck me about this entire performance was Hancock’s and Corea’s ability to be fully expressed and fully involved in each piece rather than each paring back his own approach to make room for the other in the taking-turns fashion one often hears in the two pianos/four hands context.
The music was busy and dense, but also clear, cohesive and never cluttered. That being said, in comparison to the 1978 release this music was far more patient and ethereal in nature. Both pianists, now in their 70s, seemed to be able to convey what needed to be said in a more concise and economical way than their more youthful selves.
To the less die-hard fans, this may have come across as a more challenging listening experience lacking some of the pounding fire that seems to be the norm in much of the jazz of today. For me it was an opportunity to actually be pulled deeper into that realm where the truest essence of music comes from – beyond the instant gratification of in-your-face stimulus – to that place where we all coexist as one united consciousness beyond the ego.
There was heart-wrenching beauty at times in this music. Corea and Hancock are masters who have moved far beyond the need to prove themselves on the playing field, instead choosing to join hands (pun intended) on a searching journey together to find the magic that lies beyond the five senses.
This kind of music is important. To those of us willing to open our hearts and minds to it, it reminds us that there is a great big universe out there full of bright colours and an immeasurable beauty and complexity.
And that’s why we pay our hard-earned money for tickets to sit and listen to great artists like this do what they do – it allows us to, if only briefly, to feel like everything in the world is okay.