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Herbie Hancock at the Palais

Gig Review: Sat 30 Apr 2011

What a treat to see and hear legendary keys man Herbie Hancock in concert, with bass player James Genus and drummer Trevor Lawrence. The repertoire of his two hour mystery flight ranged from songs from Imagine - his recent all-star fusion recordings of classic songs - to classic funky Herbie and jazz in which these three virtuoso musicians clearly enjoyed pushing each other’s limits.

Indeed, Hancock drew upon his proximity to the fairground of Luna Park to remark upon his fellow players: ‘That felt like a dangerous ride to me…These are dangerous musicians…they try to throw me off. We try to throw each other off.’ I think it might take a natural disaster to throw Genus and Lawrence off their game.

These musicians taxied to the very end of the tarmac on funky Cantaloupe Island and Watermelon Man, with Hancock wielding a ‘keytar’ synth. At times on our tour, Hancock made his piano sound ‘rat-a-tat-tat’ like a machine gun. You’ve never enjoyed being shot at so much in your life.

Hancock introduced vocalist Kristina Train for a lengthy reimagining of John Lennon’s Imagine. While I enjoyed immensely Hancock’s toying with melody and timing on piano and Train has a beautiful smokiness to her voice, songs like Imagine, Dylan’s The Times They Are A’Changin’ and Joni Mitchell’s Court and Spark don’t lend themselves easily to a jazz style of vocal - the all-important lyrics tend to get swallowed up.

The band drew upon recordings of musicians from the Imagine album to recreate the album’s world fusion element. We heard Malian band Tinariwen and Los Lobos on a thumping version of Bob Marley’s Exodus and The Chieftains on The Times They Are A’Changin’.

But it was the virtuosic and often playful musical interactions of Hancock, Genus and Lawrence that made this gig a trip to remember. After a blistering encore, the four musicians took applause while shuffle-dancing to Hancock’s 80s hit RockIt. Perfect.

By Steph Francis

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