Herbie Hancock at Hamer Hall, Melbourne, Saturday June 8, 2019 – for Melbourne International Jazz Festival.
All photographs by Sean Fabre-Simmonds.
“Melbourne Int’l Jazz Festival” is projected on one of the walls inside Hamer Hall and, as we take our seats, we notice Herbie Hancock’s audience comprises a fair few parent/grown-up-hipster-child combos.
After Hancock and his crack band get their bearings during Overture, he takes the mic and recalls playing at this very venue earlier on in the year as part of the International Jazz Day Global Concert (which was streamed live and also showcased local heroes including didgeridoo player William Barton and trumpeter James Morrison). Hancock then introduces us to his band, smirking as he grossly understates, “They’re pretty good”: bassist James Genus (Saturday Night Live Band), drummer Vinnie Colaiuta (who Hancock tells us married a girl from Perth) and Lionel Loueke on “weird-looking guitar, which doesn’t sound like a guitar.” Actual Proof, a track Hancock recorded with The Headhunters – the jazz-fusion band he formed back in 1973 – follows.
The vocal affects Hancock utilises reinforce his status as an innovator (he experimented with vocoder way before Kanye thought he made it cool). Shifting effortlessly between Korg Kronos keyboard, grand piano (sometimes playing both simultaneously) and keytar throughout the evening, Hancock exudes joy. The interplay between these musicians is astounding and they all look jazzed to be here. Rhythms shift constantly and the synergy between these players is intoxicating to behold. Many stink-face expressions are clocked up on stage as the musicians navigate what seem to be spontaneous, uncharted sonic highs. Hancock often beams across at individual bandmates, watching them shine while obviously genuinely inspired.
Loueke’s guitar-body-bashing percussion solo is next-level and the vocal traditions – including clicks incorporated from his native Benin, West Africa – miraculously meld with Hancock’s sonorous timbre; we simply cannot imagine this vocal combination gelling if attempted by any other two artists on the planet.
It is during his masterpiece Cantaloupe Island that Hancock’s phalanges truly take flight, moving so rapidly that the resulting sound is more like a vibration – we’re actually surprised he doesn’t levitate at this point. The audience erupts into “WOO!”s, cheers and applause when a deviation from the arrangement we’re more used to hearing artfully returns – on a dime – to a recognisable melody. To dramatically close out one song, Hancock ceases playing Korg before quickly sliding around to perch on his forward-facing grand piano stool and slam down a couple of impeccably placed chords.
It’s not until the encore that we score Chameleon. Hancock comes out from behind his console-enclosure, straps on a keytar and wanders across the front of the stage to engage with fans. A handful of punters abandon their seats and wander across to one of the side aisles for a boogie. Spotting these dance enthusiasts, Hancock looks on, chuffed, while busting out a riff.
The talent assembled up there on stage is astonishing and tonight Hancock and co. present a jazz masterclass that’s at once accessible and highbrow. All in all, a chinstroker’s paradise.