Herbie Hancock @ Edinburgh Playhouse (EIF), 7 Aug

Herbie Hancock brings transcendental joy, with a potent mix of jazz and funk, to the opening night of Edinburgh International Festival's contemporary music programme

Live Review by Lewis Wade | 10 Aug 2022
  • Herbie Hancock @ Edinburgh Playhouse (EIF), 7 Aug

There's a common trend among legacy acts of surrounding yourself with tremendous, younger musicians who are able to pick up the slack when you're either unable and unwilling to play with the intensity of your best years. This doesn't have to be a problem, as the chance to see a legend propped up by up-and-coming players is still a joy in itself. Herbie Hancock's band could easily do this given their pedigree; James Genus (bass), Lionel Loueke (guitar) and Justin Tyson (drums) are all excellent. Kicking off with a loose, best-of medley like tonight's Overture might seem to adhere to such thinking. However, it takes precious little time for Hancock to not only show he can still play with the best of them, but still has plenty to teach.

The first piece builds in intensity, throwing around a few solos and allowing Loueke the chance for a heavily-treated riff on themes from Rockit that involves Xhosa-inspired scat-singing, but it's just a taste of what's to come. Wayne Shorter's Footprints is one of two palate-cleansers that are perfectly great, but don't reach the giddy heights of other songs. 1974's Actual Proof is the first showcase of Hancock's amazing dexterity when it comes to switching between synths and piano, swivelling with ease on his stool and marrying intricacy on the keys to otherworldly funk on the Korg.

Herbie Hancock plays the piano while Lionel Loueke plays his guitar, in a photo taken at Edinburgh International Festival
Image: Herbie Hancock and Lionel Loueke for EIF by Jess Shurte

All the players get their time to shine tonight, with Loueke demonstrating preternatural abilities as a hard-rocking shredder (Actual Proof), jazz fusion experimentalist (Cantaloupe Island), funky wah-wah specialist (Chameleon) or sometimes all three (Overture). Genus is the most understated on bass, only getting a couple of solos, but the slow-building loops between Come Running to Me and Cantaloupe Island are brilliant. Despite the multivalent talent on display, Tyson on drums still manages to stand out, going from metronomic time-keeping to explosive pounding on a dime. The way he locks in with Hancock towards the end of Overture is the most improvisatory moment of the night, reminiscent of classic jazz sets that were more about feel over precision.

The whole night is perfectly sequenced and rarely falters (perhaps we didn't need quite so much vocoder warbling on Come Running to Me), with Hancock the consummate professional, despite his playful demeanour. The famous keytar makes a couple of appearances in the second hour, with Hancock positively strutting the boards during the funktastic Chameleon, encouraging the reticent (seated) audience to get moving. He's literally running and jumping about the stage by the end, soaking up the applause and showing just why he's rightly revered as a legend.

Edinburgh International Festival runs at various venues untl 28 Aug; book tickets at eif.co.uk