Herbie Hancock’s return to the Barbican just two days after his EFG London Jazz Festival performance aligned with the Los Angeles Philharmonic 2019 residency at the Barbican under the baton and direction of Gustavo Dudamel.  Collisions of jazz and orchestras are no longer such an unexpected twist to programming, but a pairing of such titans makes for a remarkable occasion.

The LA Phil took the first half of the concert, and there was sight of their pianist squashed in behind the violas whilst Hancock’s grand piano and associated racks of synthesisers occupied a vacant centre stage.  Paul Desenne’s Guasamacabra made for a mischievous opener, as muted trumpets gambled in conversation with the percussion.  Its quirky rhythmic structures ricocheted around the ensemble and culminated in a walloping sforzando.  Garbiela Ortiz’s Téenek – Invenciones de Territorio (Territorial Inventions) began with the same impact that the Guasamacabra had finished, and treacherously fast runs amongst the strings culminated in satisfying slaps of gut on wood.  The glimpse of a plucked double bass solo and a trombone glissando offered link between the orchestral world and the empty seats of the jazz quartet lined up in front of them.

The second half opened with the billed collaboration: a meeting of the masters of their respective fields; one wielding a baton and the other a keytar.  Having witnessed Hancock just two days earlier lavishing in the freedom and self-creation of his quintet’s quest for sonic sounds, it seemed inhibiting to see guitarist Lionel Loueke and bassist James Genus both seated and peering at their sheet music.  Hancock, too, had paperwork stretching twice the width of his keyboard.  Such a meeting of forces was always going to require orchestration, both practical and musical, the result of which cast the familiar melodies of Chameleon, Butterfly and Rockit into luxurious cinematic soundscapes.  A persistent triangle gave Chameleon some semblance of the Mission Impossible theme, but it was nothing the crunching pierce of a synthesiser couldn’t compliment.  Rockit, complete with scratch DJ cutting through the strings and synths, brought triumphant grins to both maestros.

For the final hour, Hancock removed the mass of music stands around his piano and his quartet led an hour’s flex of fusion funk including Overture, blending some of his greatest hits into a longer medley, “a bit like a smoothie”.  Oh, and it finished with that keytar encore: twice in three days was a glorious indulgence.

Photo: Mark Allan/Barbican

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