Herbie Hancock (curator/piano)
Reviewed by: Rob Witts
Reviewed: 28 May, 2005
Venue: Barbican Hall, London
“Where’s Herbie?” came the cry from the balcony as Krøyt finished its fourth number. A cautionary tale for marketing departments everywhere: the publicity for this second concert in Herbie Hancock’s Barbican residency had not made clear that while Hancock had curated the evening’s music, he would be sitting in with only one of the three bands. When Krøyt took to the stage, Herbie-less, a small but vocal minority in the audience leapt on their high horses and charged the box office demanding refunds. As a result, there was some hasty re-arrangement and the promoter made an apologetic announcement: to appease the mob, the running order of the two remaining acts would be reversed. It was hard to see this as anything other than craven capitulation to a self-righteous minority interested only in seeing a ‘living legend’, with no concern for the other musicians involved or the evening’s concept as a whole. It left a bad taste in the mouth.
This concert was an opportunity to see some of the directions in which Herbie Hancock’s pioneering work with synthesisers had taken. His engineer’s curiosity and an upbringing steeped in Chicago blues led to albums as diverse as the avant-ambient “Sextant” and the all-conquering jazz-funk grooves of “Headhunters”. Krøyt, from Norway, is a post-rock band with ambient leanings. At its best, Krøyt’s music achieves a monadic intensity; the combination of vibraphone, cello and guitar over sampled beats creates a luminous sound with just enough grit to be interesting. But the band remains too tied to a song format for things to develop satisfactorily, and the vocals of Kristin Asbjørnsen – pitched somewhere between Alison Goldfrapp and Björk – are too consistently winsome for listening pleasure. Still, the band deserved a better reception than it received.
The Bays have earned a formidable reputation as an improvising group who insist on spontaneity as key to its integrity – no rehearsals, no recordings. The line-up – bass, drums, keyboards and samples – generates a huge, fat sound that draws on the myriad dance-music styles of the last twenty years. Sitting down to his piano as they dropped their first groove, Herbie Hancock at first seemed isolated and ill-at-ease, throwing out little figures and ideas without anything seeming to stick. Would this work at all? Then something clicked – a riffed vocal sample meshed with Chris Taylor’s loping bass, and they were away. If anything, Hancock proved a driving force in ninety minutes of high-energy music, spurring the group on with mighty, rapier-sharp solos; but there was a playful give-and-take in the performance, with Jamie Odell and Simon Richmond’s effects and samples sending Herbie to his G5 sound banks to match them. By the end – including an extraordinary drum-and-bass excursion powered by the astounding drumming of Andy Gangadeen, and matched by Hancock’s powerful flow – the audience was euphoric.
After that, the Finnish group RinneRadio could have been forgiven for feeling they’d been left high and dry. In the event, only around half the audience stayed to listen – and the band’s spare, folk-inflected soundscapes proved an excellent way to wind down. This was music of almost Gothic character with, here moonlighting, classicist Pekka Kuusisto’s demonic electric violin contrasting with Tapani Rinne’s soulful bass clarinet amid a strange wasteland of electronic beats. Like the rest of the evening, it wasn’t jazz as we know it, but it bore Herbie Hancock’s fearlessly experimental imprimatur.