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Matthew Ruddick

Author of Funny Valentine, an acclaimed new biography of the jazz trumpet player and singer, Chet Baker.
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Friday, 23 June 2017 15:52

Chick Corea - The Musician

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Finest keyboardist of his generation gets well-deserved retrospective capturing 70th birthday celebrations.

When you’re a jazz legend, and you turn 70, what do you do to celebrate?

Of course, if you’re keyboard star Chick Corea, you hold a month-long residency in one of New York City’s finest jazz clubs and invite the greatest living artists to play your music with you. And you capture it on audio and video, to remind music fans of how you’ve changed jazz forever.

Chick Corea’s jazz roots are in New York City’s Greenwich Village and it was in this locale’s Blue Note Jazz Club that Corea held a month-long residency in 2011, during which he looked back at his immense musical legacy with his friends …. all of whom are jazz legends in their own right. This new triple CD and blu-ray set captures the frisson of these special gigs as Corea played with ten different bands and showed us why he’s such a special keyboardist.

These live recording capture superbly the excitement and energy of a Corea gig, the music being interspersed with the repartee and back-and-forth between Corea and his band-mates which testify to the laughter, warmth and camaraderie generated by a musician acknowledged by all of his peers as a true great.

Each disc captures a number of different periods of Corea’s career.

So, the first disc features my personal favourites, jazz rock pioneers Return To Forever, but unplugged. Stanley Clarke (bass), Lenny White (drums) and Frank Gamble (guitars, in place of original guitarist Al di Meola) showcase over two tracks - Captain Marvel, and Light as a Feather - the fantastic chemistry they created as a fusion supergroup, a real thundercrack of an opening. 

We then switch to a piece from Corea’s most recent jazz trio, featuring Gary Peacock (bass) and Brian Blade (drums), before things get electric with two tracks - Spirit Ride and Special Beings - featuring John McLaughlin’s recent Five Peace Band experiment. Such drive and momentum is evident here with Corea’s characteristic electric piano sound adding to the soundscape.

On disc two there is further diversity, as listeners enjoy two tracks from Corea’s duet with Gary Burton (vibraphone) backed by the Harlem String Quartet before a tribute to Miles Davis with Wallace Rooney (trumpet), Gary Bartz (sax), Eddie Gomez (bass), and Jack DeJohnette (drums). Corea et al really capture the verve and ‘cool’ spirit of Davis on If I Were A Bell and Nefertiti. Another switch follows to a latin feel with his Flamenco Heart group, sounds straight from Madrid with Concha Buika (vocals), Jorge Parado (sax), Carles Benavent (bass), Nino Josele (guitar) and Jeff Ballard (drums).

Wow. Just read again that cavalcade of jazz royalty and revel in the sheer variety and expanse of Corea’s contribution to expanding our music world through his unrivalled us of the 88 keys open to him. Has any player touched so many bases in jazz as he?

The best disc for me is the third, featuring Corea duetting with another keyboard legend Herbie Hancock on classics Cantaloupe Island, Dolphin Dance and Hot House, and his best line-up, arguably, the Elektric Band, which incidentally plays London’s Barbican later in the month. Listening again to Corea with Dave Weckl (drums), John Patitucci (bass), Eric Marienthal (sax) and Frank Gambale (guitars), you experience the fizz of energy that this band injected into jazz in the eighties and nineties with their high-energy, fusion sound. Tracks Ritual and Silver Temple, which close this album, have never sounded better.

Corea is, like all great artists, someone who never stands still. Each period of his career has seen a reinvention, a new musical risk taken, a sense of musical adventure that brings success every time and numerous Grammys and accolades from the world of music. These three disc provide a worthy record of that beautiful journey.

Sadly, the review copy I was given did not include the blu-ray documentary, which provides total access to Chick Corea’s creative process and features live footage and rehearsal hangs, along with interviews with Corea and some of his band-mates. Great thought the music is, I suspect this is the element of the package which will do most to remind listeners of just what a creative mind Corea has.

To the great jazz experimenter, this reviewer says, keep on experimenting. We’re better off for it.


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