Herbie Hancock was allowed to attend the second edition of the open-air summer stage Arena5 in Brussels on June 30, 2022, with the beautiful Centenary Palace in the background. Herbie Hancock (1940) is a living jazz legend, this man has won 14 Grammy awards and has shared the stage with that other jazz legend Miles Davis.
What do this location and Herbie Hancock have in common? They are both a monument! And there are similarities between the construction of these architectural buildings and Herbie’s life. Herbie Hancock, born in 1940, released his first album in 1962 (‘Takin’ Off’). Many constructions of Expo 58 have been demolished, but the unique Atomium, the art deco Expo palaces (same style as the Empire State Building) and the American Pavilion have remained. It is worth attending one of the concerts for this historic location alone.
Herbie has played several times in Belgium, including at the Bozar and the Concertgebouw in Bruges. His passage in 2015 at the Bozar with that other living piano great Chick Corea was memorable. In the 1970s, these gentlemen left their mark on the jazz fusion style and we certainly don’t forget the guitarist John McLaughlin.
It was an Open Air Summer Arena but there was not much to notice about the summer. Before the performance it started to rain heavily and it was autumn temperatures. Fortunately, there were limited free ponchos available. The concert had started a little later and Herbie Hancock assured “You’ll see, as long as we play, there won’t be any rain”. And fortunately, that statement has come true. This man is 82 and still attracts both an old and young audience. The large turnout of visitors was there with full attention, but half numb. All hidden under their rain gear.
The opening track ‘Ouverture’ was an immediate definitive of the concert. The Herbie Hancock quintet opens with electronic sounds from Herbie’s synthesizer, before moving on to delicious funky wah wah of the electric guitar. (as in Isaac Hayes’ Theme from Shaft). The guitarist started as a one-man band and conjured up a rhythm section with voice and microphone, which he supplemented with guitar. he completely got the audience involved. You could see the heads nodding up and down rhythmically everywhere. Lionel Loue used a guitar synth that was created for an ‘out from space’ soundscape that we heard regularly for the rest of the concert. Several solos alternate to end with a syncopated drum.
Herbie’s solos were received with much applause. How this man with his piano solos walked the soundscape created by the band like a foal is genius. 82 and still going strong! The second track was Wayne Shorter’s jazz standard Footprints. Here we heard a funky version of the original 1966 recording interspersed with subdued moments. The groove the band managed to create left the audience spellbound. With a fast version of ‘Actual Proof’ we then went into hypersonic solos and you heard the first fantastic bass guitar solo and drum solo.
Our craving for virtuoso interplay was satisfied. We ended up in quieter places with ‘Running To Me’. From then on we went back to space, Herbie sang with a highly distorted electronic voice (harmonizer) and the guitar synth came to complement our space journey. We floated around the earth for a few laps and ended the concert with the hit song ‘Cantaloupe Island’ with another unparalleled solo by Herbie. The bonus was ‘Chameleon’, where all the audience left their rooms and went to the front to dance. With another solo by Herbie on keytar you saw and heard the world class float to the top.
There followed an intimate question and answer interplay between guitar and keytar before erupting again in a climactic ending. During the performance you looked around, wow, such a strong set with the blue lit Centenary Palace and the Atomium in the background. That makes a person happy!