These two amazing artists are currently on a world tour together, and recently graced the Barbican stage. Armed, with 1 grand piano and one synth each and no rhythm section, the pair are able to be totally free and creative, and what followed had elements of something classical about it. It started out with something not too dissimilar to Vangelis' Bladerunner sound track, or even something from 2001: A Space Odyssey, futuristic, dark and filmic. From there it went through lots of mad piano workouts that were pretty dark and challenging, with the guys basically improvising and bouncing ideas back and forth weaving in unexpected covers including Miles Davis' Solar which was chaotic, but out of this world.
As mentioned the whole performance had something of a classical form, so the expected jazz output wasn't quite so apparent, but still, jazz was clearly at the route of most of the ideas, imagine if you will modern jazz, but played with classical approach. Cantaloupe Island was delivered with a much harder and more dynamic sensibility, running way longer than the original, both legends consistently outdoing eachother in a freeform jamming session.
But this was never about self indulgence, both engaged with the audience regularly; at one point segmenting everyone into about five or six groups, and getting each to sing different harmonies, creating a sort of call and response between them and us, which was truly engaging particularly as everyone's efforts were delivered like the last audition of their lives. A mic was passed around various audience members and participants were asked to record different sounds which were sampled and built up into their tracks, pretty brave and certainly a first for me. These guys are so humble, fun, absurdly musically talented, completely inspirational, and artists that have pioneered some really interesting music over the years.
I feel it's important to go to musically challenging events; we listen to music day in, day out, and ultimately it's not all that challenging. A lot of pop is just based around four chords, a beat and that's it - rinse and repeat. In fact, most popular tracks are based on four chords, and your mind gets used to listening to that sort of repetition, whereas when offered something that expands upon this it feels like different parts of your brain are being engaged. This gig was not only hugely enjoyable it was an education, and that's a big part of the enjoyment for me, offering a fresh perspective. How many artists offer that in today's world?
This experience was musically rich, challenging, humbling...and joyful. Without wishing to be cliched about it there was a shared joy between Herbie and Chic and the audience. They constantly said that the performance was as much about the audience, and as such it felt like a collaboration, the fact that these artists are so talented and yet so generous and engaging meant the experience was genuinely different to anything I've seen or heard before.