HERBIE HANCOCK & WAYNE SHORTER
Ever since Louis Armstrong and pianist Earl Hines recorded their famous “Weather Bird” duet (here in Chicago, in 1928), any intimate pairing of two like-minded virtuosos has raised powerful expectations: the interplay between just two musicians tends to bring performers and listeners alike to pinpoint concentration. You needn’t agree that pianist Herbie Hancock and saxist Wayne Shorter click like Armstrong and Hines to appreciate their exploration of this demanding format; but several tracks on their recently released 1 + 1 (Verve) do in fact achieve a marriage of complex musicianship and transcendent simplicity–of power and glory. As innovative composers and improvisers, both men became household jazz names in the early 60s, primarily through their partnership with Miles Davis in one of history’s great quintets. Distinct and influential styles like theirs often come to sound mannered with the passage of time, and at certain points Hancock and Shorter find themselves trapped in a web of devices all too familiar to the many who’ve followed their work over the years. While that hardly invalidates the music or the design behind it, it does occasionally make me wish for another instrument or two to serve as catalyst. The many apogees on 1+1 arrive when these two old friends depart from their trademark ways–like Shorter’s vaulting swoops to haunted perches an octave up, or Hancock’s ripe two-handed chords–to seek out strange new vistas. The extrovert pianist and the introspective saxophonist still push each other’s buttons, and often to astonishing effect: when Shorter’s soprano sneaks in after one of Hancock’s night-blooming introductions, it might as well be a diva singing of love and loss. Though they’re the headliners, Hancock and Shorter play first, followed by saxist Joe Lovano and an 11-piece ensemble reconstructing songs associated with Frank Sinatra. Friday, 8 PM, Orchestra Hall, Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan; 312-294-3000. NEIL TESSER
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Michael O’Neill.