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Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea Make Piano Magic at Carnegie Hall

by Nick Stubblefield

Herbie Hancock and Chick CoreaChick Corea and Herbie Hancock, two of the living legends of jazz, hit the stage at Carnegie Hall on Thursday night for an evening of duo music for piano and keyboard. They sat facing each other - Herbie at his Fazioli, Chick at his Yamaha - and played an uninterrupted set that included new originals and exciting takes on standards, including their own hits from decades past. Currently in the midst of a worldwide tour, this is the first time Chick and Herbie have collaborated since the late 1970s, when they released a pair of acclaimed live duo albums.  

To box either pianist into the "jazz" category would hardly reflect their wide-ranging contributions to music. Herbie's "Headhunters" band in the 1970s changed the game with electronic fusion funk, and he has broken new ground in the 21st century with his pop collaborations, including 2007's River: the Joni Letters, which won the Grammy for Album of the Year. Chick's recent output, on the other hand, has incorporated everything from Latin music, to chamber and symphonic works.

"I bet they don't know what we're going to do," Herbie said.

"We don't know what we're going to do," Chick responded.

Chick coreaOnce the show started, however, it became evident that these two players were in complete command of everything they played. Equal parts dreamy and intense, the sound of the two grand pianos was often powerful but never overwhelming. As one would play in higher octaves, the other would take a lower register, then switch parts. The interplay between them was fluid and tasteful, with a virtuosity and versatility that was so fast, so well in sync, it seemed as if they were working with the same mind.

The second piece, a Chick original, was so including that Herbie said they were still working on it that morning. Starting out on a pair of Korg Workstations, they conjured a crazy orchestra of sounds, including synthesized vocals, harps, flutes, and drum machine before moving back to the piano. Sadly, that was to be the only taste of keyboards we would get all night: a bit inadequate, given the central role these two have played in making synths an essential part of jazz.

The rest of the evening was devoted to variations on old favorites. A zesty and experimental take on the Miles Davis classic "All Blues" showcased new takes on the harmonies. Both Chick and Herbie played in Miles' band, so this was a fitting tribute. 

Herbie Hancock
They followed with a fun new take on Herbie's "Cantaloupe Island," establishing a fun bluesy groove from the start before entering into more complex rhythmic territory. Another Hancock standard, "Maiden Voyage" followed, preceded by a beautiful newly-composed interlude. The rapid fire exchange of ideas and novel harmonic exploration was nothing less than astonishing. 

For an encore, Chick got the audience to participate in one of his most popular compositions, "Spain." Separating the audience into 5 sections - three male, two female - the harmonies sounded a bit like the opening of Strauss' Also Sprach Zarathustra. After some initial giggles, we all blended in like a bunch of pros. Pure magic.

In could have easily been too much of a good thing, Herbie and Chick proved  instead to be an organic pairing: beautiful, intellectual and a whole lot of fun. Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock

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