Herbie Hancock Montreal Jazz Fest review

Photo by Victor Diaz Lamich for the Jazz Fest

A Herbie Hancock show in 2023 still feels like a voyage to the future

A review of the jazz legend’s set, supported by openers DOMi & JD Beck, at the Montreal Jazz Fest on July 3.

Herbie Hancock played the Montreal Jazz Fest on July 3 at Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier, with openers DOMi & JD Beck invited to set the mood. This was my third opportunity to see the band since this time last year when they sold out Club Soda essentially by word of mouth, and they did it again at le Belmont a few months later. After two off-the-chain, overexcited general admission club shows, it was pretty awesome to sit down and actually admire the way they work their craft. 

Despite DOMi’s sample bank dying twice in the middle of one number, the dynamic duo did their damn thing, pleasing a crowd that most certainly hadn’t come out to hear any amateur-hour noodling.

Mixing original music with cover arrangements of Wayne Shorter, the Weather Report and the man of the hour himself, the pair got the room warmed up with a set lasting just short of an hour. (For a deeper dive into DOMi & JD Beck — and the free show they played to a massive crowd the following night — please click here.)

After a brief intermission, the Chameleon appeared.

The 83-year-old Hancock is widely recognized as a key bridge-builder between the bop era and the progressive sound of Black music, by way of synthesizers and a synergetic alliance with 1970s funk. 

Call it what you wanna call it but I think the “f” word is too vague. I like to imagine that when Mr. Hands pointed toward the future from behind his keys from the ’70s onward, the future waved back from behind turntables, mixers, drum machines and samplers. 

The fact that Herbie Hancock is still with us, vibrant and interested and invested in the very future he helped shape, is nothing short of a gift. As was his presence and performance on Monday night. 

“When something breaks, you gotta improvise right?” he asked the audience, talking up how great DOMi and JD were, tech issues and all. The response was lukewarm.

“No, only a few of you do that?” 

The crowd roared. Apparently, we needed a reminder of our human ingenuity. 

Hancock then introduced the show, welcomed to the stage his four-piece band (which included five-time Grammy winner and two-time Academy Award nominee and acclaimed trumpet player Terrence Blanchard and Saturday Night Live bassist James Genus) and away to jam land we went. 

“It’s about to get spacey and weird,” he warned. 

Playing only six numbers drawn out to give the band space to breathe and shine in their own right, Hancock worked his magic through a medley of his work he calls “Overture,” then an hommage to his recently deceased friend Wayne Shorter with a cover of “Footprints.”

The single most mind-melting performance of the night was a drawn-out, full-tilt rendition of his 1974 composition “Actual Proof.” 

Everything else that followed was highly entertaining, with the audience and the star engaging in mutual appreciation throughout as Hancock proved that at 83, he’s still got quite a bit left in the tank. Moreover, his tour band is made of players that know how to bring it all out and fill it in a little for their leader when need be, too.

But no one is taking away Herbie’s keytar anytime soon, as evidenced by a show-closing blast-off in the form of fan favourite and synth-funk classic “Chameleon.”

A Herbie Hancock show in the year 2023, it turns out,  still feels an awful lot like a voyage to the future. What a treat. ■

REVIEW: Herbie Hancock at the Montreal Jazz Fest on July 3, 2023

The Montreal International Jazz Festival continues through Saturday, July 8. For a full list of performers, schedules, venues and ticket information, please visit the festival’s website.

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