This double-bill is likely to go down in history as one of the great Jazz Festival success stories - sublime stuff
Mr. Wavvy
20:12 3rd July 2018

The Montreal International Jazz Festival has been known to have booked some seriously stellar double billings in their past. Perhaps the most notable recent of these was B.B. King and Gary Clark Jr. in 2014. Unfortunately, this would be King’s final appearance at the festival, with a number of foreshadowing indications throughout the performance. One of the blues legend’s signature songs is a cover of ‘You Are My Sunshine’. On that particularl evening, he dragged the tune on for upwards of 45 minutes, a saddening sight for longtime fans and festival goers.

All this to say, these type of concerts can be hit or miss. When the Jazz Festival announced an evening with Herbie Hancock and Thundercat, one could only imagine the treat we were to experience.

This marked my fifth time seeing Thundercat live. Each experience brings forth new dimensions of sound. Having previously played in touring bands for the likes of Snoop Dogg and Suicidal Tendencies, the bassist is known for his multitude of layers. Playing in these multifaceted situations also allowed him to become a student of the game. Night after night, he would be soaking up wisdom from older past bandmates Kamasi Washington and Terrace Martin, both of whom would go on to experience their own solo success as well.

Thundercat took to the stage in a timely manner, decked out in socks with sandals, a fluorescent bathing suit, and a very emo striped long sleeve. It was the epitome of not giving a fuck!

Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier allowed the artist born Stephen Burner a rare opportunity to exhibit his music to an older audience of Hancock fans. Alternatively, this was also the Place des Arts show to attract the most young people. The audience was fairly divided, the youth caught in a trance while many elders crossed their arms.

Much like Hancock, Burner is a master of improvisation. He makes sure to always keep himself in good company, with his keyboardist and drummer on par with this electrifying skills. Despite seeing him three times on the Drunk tour alone, it’s hard to get tired of Thundercat.

Before Hancock dived into his own show - a 90-minute set consisting of seven cuts taken from across his oeuvre - he proudly revealed Thundercat has collaborated with him on his forthcoming album. It comes as no surprise that he is happy to pass the torch. The jazz composer has found strength in maintaining an open mind throughout his career. As one of the early adopters of hip-hop from his generation, he achieved great success from the drum machine-driven Rockit album in 1983.

Hancock’s performance began with an overture, fused together by the iconic blend of jazz and funk that has kept his music alive throughout the years. This 8-minute piece was the perfect precedent for what was yet to come with the 4-piece’s time on stage.

As prolific an artist as he is, Herbie loves to be in good company. The band composed of James Genus, Trevor Lawrence Jr., Lionel Loueke are on par with Hancock’s experimentality. Throughout the performance, each member actively tested the boundaries of their respective instruments functionality. 

Case and point for such experimentation came forth when the band went into 'Actual Proof', a tune Hancock says “A lot of drummers get off on”. Here, we found Lawrence bolting through a solo at rapid-fire speed. If only more bands could take note here and meander away from the original recording. Improvisation at this level is so much fun.

Some of the biggest applause of the night came when Hancock mentioned his 12th album Head Hunters. This is why ending the evening with the album’s, ‘Chameleon’, only seemed right. A Roland keytar was brought out, and the man played with an energy that is on par to when the song was crafted, a whole 44 years ago.

Ultimately, Hancock’s playing and storytelling abilities remain sharp as a knife. With a new album in the workings, it is clear that there are no plans of fading to black anytime in the near future.

Thundercat played:
'Rabbot Ho'
'Captain Stupido'
'Uh Uh'
'Bus in These Streets / These Walls'
'A Fan's Mail (Tron Song Suite II)'
'Tron Song'
'Heartbreaks + Setbacks'
'Lone Wolf and Cub'
'MmmHmm (Flying Lotus cover)'
'Complexion (A Zulu Love) (Kendrick Lamar cover)'
'Walk on By'
'Them Changes'

Herbie Hancock played:

'Actual Proof'
'Come Running to Me'
'Secret Source'
'Watermelon Man'
'Cantaloupe Island'

Photo: Alexis Aubin / Mr. Wavvy