Herbie Hancock & LSO – Gershwin

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Herbie Hancock (piano)
Lionel Loueke (guitar)
Dave Carpenter (bass)
Richie Barshay (drums)

London Symphony Orchestra
Robert Sadin


Reviewed by: Rob Witts

Reviewed: 29 May, 2005
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

Herbie Hancock’s 1998 album “Gershwin’s World” was a delight – a well-conceived and stylish tribute to the composer to mark his centenary year, with a genre-busting array of guest contributors that ranged from Kathleen Battle to Stevie Wonder. Hancock and his arranger Robert Sadin re-imagined the material as a touring vehicle for band and symphony orchestra in 2003, and it was this programme that was presented as the conclusion to Hancock’s Barbican residency.

It was, to be frank, a bit of a mess. Sadin is a competent arranger but a dreadful conductor; his direction of the long-suffering LSO players resembled semaphore signalling to a distant shore. His habit of keeping time by stamping his foot is presumably less of a problem in the recording studio, but was embarrassing throughout the Stokowski-esque Bach arrangement that opened the evening. His Hollywood gushing presented an unappetising contrast to Hancock’s laid-back stage persona.

The LSO found itself criminally underused for much of the evening. Scuppered by tinny amplification, the orchestra’s string sound on Gershwin’s Lullaby was less appealing than usual, though the big-band brass stabs on a deconstructed I Got Rhythm and a barnstorming St Louis Blues was as lethally sharp as one might expect. Orchestral fantasias on Hancock’s Maiden Voyage and Wayne Shorter’s Nefertiti gave more substantial opportunities, but for too much of the time the orchestra was relegated to the role of a mute second audience.

The concert’s saving grace was Hancock’s incomparable musicianship. His complex but involving harmonies tempered Gershwin’s familiar sweetness; a solo rendition of Someone to Watch over Me was dominated by a searching, impressionistic introduction. At times improvising over the orchestra, he was also accompanied by his excellent trio that once again demonstrated real pleasure in playing together on a fantastically funky Actual Proof; Richie Barshay’s percussion solo showed his precocious talent.

The evening’s lack of focus may simply reflect the width of Hancock’s interests; the African sounds of guitarist Lionel Loueke were prominent, but sat uneasily with the ripe orchestral interludes. Ultimately, however, it is Hancock’s wide-ranging curiosity that has made his London ‘residency’ so interesting and inspiring. This is Herbie’s world: the rest of us just live here.



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