Edinburgh International Festival music review: Herbie Hancock

Herbie Hancock drew on half a century of repertoire for a storming, shape-shifting festival gig, writes Jim Gilchrist

Herbie Hancock at the Festival Theatre PIC: Jess Shurte
Herbie Hancock at the Festival Theatre PIC: Jess Shurte

Herbie Hancock, Edinburgh Playhouse *****

At 82, Herbie Hancock inevitably attracts that used and abused “living legend” tag, but as he demonstrated in this memorable performance with an impressively intermeshed quartet, this legend is inarguably alive but also very much kicking.

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Hancock drew on repertoire across more than half a century, during which the pianist and keyboard maestro’s cross-genre influence has been indelible. His introductory Overture was a 20-minute shapeshifting showstopper in its own right, hinting at familiar themes but opening with sci-fi sighs and whoops from synthesisers before drummer Justin Tyson and electric bassist James Genus worked up an unremitting groove. Hancock switching between grand piano and synthesisers while the superb, Benin-born guitarist Lionel Loueke delivered some of his intriguing, Xhosa-informed click-skatting.

Hancock, in affably chatty mode, effortlessly steered the band while leaving members room to break out. Tyson, a drummer who can pin down a beat without constraining his own busyness within it, laid down the steady, unhurried pace of Wayne Shorter’s Footprints, Loueke’s guitar singing out beautifully and Hancock alternating easeful piano ranging with orchestral keyboard washes.

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Things got uncompromisingly funkier with Actual Proof, while an excursion into soul jazz, Come Running to Me, saw Hancock singing through that weird Jekyll and Hyde of sonic effects, the vocoder, while Genus embarked on a solo that he looped wonderfully into a hive of bass murmuring.

Things intensified as Hancock donned his famous “keytar”, slung across his chest like a giant cheese knife, and emitting eerie howls and bendy cascades. An already enthusiastic audience reacted warmly to the lazy, almost Brubeckian piano hook of Cantaloupe Island, and when the big fat riff of Chameleon heralded an encore and Hancock, still light on his feet, went front of stage wielding that squalling keytar, a standing ovation was inevitable. Jim Gilchrist