by Dwight Casimere
Piano and keyboard master Chick Corea is the type of inventive artist who keeps you on the edge of your seat. His Symphony Center Presents concert featuring sidemen and collaborators Christian McBride on Bass and Brian Blade on Drums, proved that point brilliantly. Blade and McBride are highly regarded jazz artists and bandleaders in their own right. Harris Bank sponsors the Jazz Series.
Corea’s concert spanned time, musical genres and composers, from the classical compositions of Alexander Scriabin to his own explorations of the avant-garde with pit stops along the way to incorporate the be-bop era jazz of Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonius Monk and the blues, which is the birthplace of Modern Jazz. The sixteen-time Grammy Award winner showed that why, at the age of 69, he remains one of the most innovative modern composers working on the concert stage and the undisputed leader among keyboard virtuosos.
Born of Sicilian and Spanish parentage and steeped in both classical and early jazz music in his formative years, Corea put jazz fusion on the musical map with the creation of his landmark band Return to Forever in 1971. His opening composition payed homage to both his early explorations into jazz-fusion and a nod to his Spanish roots. It was appropriately titled, “Homage.” What followed were some probative readings of the musical literature of the distant past that incorporated the difficult, but lyrical runs and chord progressions of Scriabin. The work showed the relationship between the free-form nature of jazz and the controlled chaos of forward-reaching classical composition. “Now He Sings, Now He Sobs,” provided the opportunity for Corea to stretch out and show the depth of his musical knowledge and the nuance of his playing. His resurrection of an early Thelonius Monk tune, “Work,” showed his ability to improvise while working within the framework of an unorthodox chord structure and melodic progression. There were some exquisite moments of interplay between Corea and drummer Brian Blade that showcased the latter’s almost lyrical style of playing. He elevated the capability of his instrument beyond that of a mere timekeeper, to become a true collaborator. The late Max Roach must have been smiling in jazz heaven at the sight of his musical son in action.
Christian McBride’s composition, Sister Rosa, dedicated to Civil Rights pioneer Rosa Parks, captured the blues and soul spirit that was the bedrock of that era and the inspiration behind the music that spawned a New America. Corea cut loose with some brilliant jazz/funk musings that recalled his early musical mentor, the jazz performance and composing genius Horace Silver. Blade’s composition “Alpha and Omega” showcased the latter’s abilities as drummer and composer. The meditative mood of the peace prompted a hushed silence from the audience. Its tone bordered on reverence, no doubt reflective of his childhood, listening to Gospel music in his native Shreveport, Louisiana where his father is a Baptist preacher. It was a transcendent moment.
Corea brought his performance to a blazing conclusion like Secretariat, of current movie fame, crossing the finish line. “Fingerprints,” and his encore, “Isotope,” allowed the audience to revel in the intricacies of his pianistic inventions as he wove complex tapestries of sound with his nimble fingers. His crossover technique and filigreed arpeggios would make even the most accomplished classical pianist stand up and take notice.
His was concertizing of the highest order. For the listener, it was an opportunity to watch one the marvels of the music world at the peak of his form. Chick Corea, as he approaches his seventh decade in life, continues to create music that defies classification.