On Tuesday 31 July at Ronnie Scott’s, Chick Corea, John Patitucci and Dave Weckl played their first set together at Ronnie’s for 32 years. I was there to see them 32 years ago as well, albeit in a very different context as part of Chick’s Elektric Band with Scott Henderson on guitar.
This time, the atmosphere at Ronnie’s was somewhat subdued beforehand and also during at least the first half of the set (perhaps not helped by the lack of a support set to warm up the room), so the audience were either listening intently and quietly or they were half-asleep after their meals.
In fact, early in the set, Chick and Weckl in turn had to encourage the audience to applaud the solos, which is no reflection on how good they were. It was just a strangely quiet room given the stature of the musicians. Perhaps some of the audience would have responded more enthusiastically if Chick wore a suit rather than his black hooded rain coat, but he’s rarely done that, and what’s so good about a musician possibly sweating in a suit onstage in a jazz club, in late July?
These musicians sounded pretty much as they ever have, with extremely tight ensemble playing and plenty of interplay, and the arrangements were, as you might expect, quite imaginative. Corea sometimes divides opinion, but you can’t please everyone: often any negative opinion doesn’t seem to be based entirely on the quality of the music, and that’s what I’m talking about here.
Although he’s influenced many, there’s no other jazz pianist that sounds quite like Chick, with his characteristic turns of phrase and distinctive compositions. To me, the only thing that had changed about his playing over the years was that the more reflective moments of his playing seemed more delicate and it was a reminder, if it were needed, of what a great pianist he is. Jazz characteristics aside, he has a wonderful tone on the piano (or rather a wide variety of tones), whereas some jazz pianists just don’t have that. It was also clear that at heart Chick is a Latin jazz pianist, although one that’s sculpted a style that’s perhaps more distinctive than that of others in that field.
There wasn’t much sign of tunes that I might have expected to hear – for example, there wasn’t a rendition of Corea’s Spain, but we’ve heard that plenty of times and probably knew how it would sound.
Instead, we were treated to a set that was composed half of other Corea originals and half standards, including Ellington’s In a Sentimental Mood (featuring some lovely arco work by Patitucci with great intonation, following his quote from How Deep Is The Ocean in Sammy Fain’s That Old Feeling, and also Chick’s hinting at Ellington’s phrase from the introduction to Take The ‘A’ Train). The originals, apart from the more recent and stirring Lifeline, were from further back in Chick’s catalogue, namely the opener Morning Sprite and A Japanese Waltz.
The trio’s treatment of these tunes was reasonably similar in each case, starting with a piano solo, morphing into a statement of the melody, followed by the solos which often developed initially almost in the style of the Bill Evans trio, with piano and bass interaction – sometimes sounding as if arranged rather than improvised. They were joined in that interaction by the drums and these solos gained momentum as the set progressed, with the audience gradually warming up as well.
It was a well-paced programme, building to a great close on the aforementioned Lifeline, with Weckl (pictured above left by Jon Frost) providing arguably the solo of the set, where the band were at their most explosive with tight and relatively heavy punctuated chords inciting Weckl’s drum work. It made the interesting interpretation of All Blues as an encore seem almost like an afterthought, with Lifeline having been called as the last number after just 45 minutes, bringing the set to a close under the hour, with 10 minutes or so remaining for the encore, so there was ample time to head down Shaftesbury Avenue to catch the tube and train afterwards, to the very different strains of Autumn Leaves from a distant busking saxophonist.