Armando Anthony “Chick” Corea is a virtuosic and inviting artist: Photos, Video

- in ARTISTS, VIDEOS

Terrible that the great pianist Chick Corea has died at age 79 — wonderful he visited this planet and played for us so much as he did.

I’ve loved his music since hearing the peerless trio album Now He Sings, Now He Sobs in the late ’60s — and from 2017, here’s my review for DownBeat of his 3-cd/Blu-Ray album The Musician. (Since this release, Chick put out Trilogy, with Christian McBride and Brian Blade. Of his other earlier work I’m still especially enamored of Circle’s Paris Concert with Anthony Braxton, the first two Return to Forever albums (eponymous and Light as a Feather), with Getz’s band Sweet Rain and Captain Marvel, everything with Miles but esp Live in Europe ’69, the “lost quintet” of MD and Chick, Wayne Shorter, Dave Holland and Jack DeJohnette. Wow, gotta put that on now

THE MUSICIAN (Concord Records): Chick Corea is a pianist virtually without peer (reservation explained below). From all evidence on The Musician, his 2011 month-long stand at New York City’s Blue Note club celebrating his 70th birthday — during which he played in 10 settings reflecting collaborations and interests threading through his 55-year career — was a creative revel every night.

This deluxe documentation of the residency — three-and-a-half hours of music over three cds, an essay by Thelonious Monk biographer Robin D.G. Kelley, a gallery of Ernest Gregory photos and 96-minute Blue Ray documentary film — is paradoxically a substantive feast that may leave listeners wishing it were just a little less, and craving more.

Every track attests that Armando Anthony “Chick” Corea is a virtuosic and inviting artist. He is steeped in jazz traditions yet freely imaginative, a daring, brilliantly lyrical and rhythmically exciting improviser. He’s an accomplished composer, a natural team-player and engaging duetist, a generous accompanist and deep explorer of his personal heritage also enthusiastic about new instruments and forms.

An upbeat romantic warrior, Corea has been well-respected and internationally successful for decades, but doesn’t seem smug. The film, a mosaic of close-up interviews, off-stage scenes and performance excerpts that becomes a bit wearing as it tries to fit everyone and everything in, depicts Chick traipsing around Manhattan like a regular guy.

“Captain Marvel,” Corea’s melodic title track for Stan Getz’s 1974 album, is a welcome opener here, on which the pianist stretches with the expansive buoyancy and organic flow of his finest acoustic work. Continuing with “Light as a Feather,” bassist Stanley Clarke and drummer Lennie White sound up-to-date and hard-hitting, with Frank Gambale (from the Elektrik Band on cd three) fitting well into this “Return to Forever Unplugged.” Corea’s trio with Brian Blade (using brushes) and perfectly propulsive Gary Peacock is under-represented by the lovely “I Hear a Rhapsody,” but the rangy Five Peace Band, co-led by Corea’s longtime friend John McLaughlin, gets almost half an hour for two pieces, and Bobby McFerrin, warmly spontaneous if intonationally casual, sings for fully 15 minutes. Each of these three cds is a concert in itself.

On cd two, Corea’s “Overture” for himself, Gary Burton and string quartet is deftly drawn and played prettily. Gayle Moran Corea’s paean of wifely devotion is heartfelt, and the two Miles Davis covers are tart and taut, thanks to excellent Mssrs. Roney, Bartz, Gomez and DeJohnette. The surprise is Corea’s Flamenco Heart ensemble – he solos magnificently on “Zyryab,” unspooling a solo that wants to never end. Corea’s Spanish group, in which Buika sings passionately and Pardo’s sax whirls, is spectacularly cohesive, even considering the others here assembled.

On cd three Corea’s piano mastery is not topped but well-met and matched. Herbie Hancock and Marcus Robert have skills and sensibilities comparable to Corea’s (we bask today an array of dazzling pianists, many influenced by him). Fourhanded with Marcus Roberts, Corea essays some classic blues (Wynton Marsalis tips his hat). With Hancock — and just like him — Corea flirts with funk while sustaining sophistication. The Elektric Band, by comparison, is a glossy chops-shows, wherein high drama is a feature, not a flaw. Chick helped fashion fusion, so knows how this goes, and the band – Gambrale, Marienthal, Patitucci and Weckle – shines. “Elektrik,” by the way, is a state of mind.

If all this feels like an appetizer, take heart: In 2016 Corea enjoyed an eight-week-long 75th birthday residency at the Blue Note, with even more star collaborators. Can another album like this one be far behind?

Howard Mandel, JJA, Facebook
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