Chick Corea: Rendezvous In New York

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Chick Corea
Rendezvous in New York
Image Entertainment

This may not be the ultimate Chick Corea collection, but fans aren't likely to find a better one on video anytime soon.

A near-complete portrait of the legendary pianist's non-fusion career is captured on the 10-DVD Rendezvous In New York boxed set, featuring performances from his three-week run of reunion concerts at the New York's Blue Note in 2003 to celebrate his 60th birthday. Those craving more after hearing the Grammy-nominated double-CD released that year under the same name will find the extended material equally satisfying. It also stands commendably on its own as a showcase for some of the most talented musicians from the past 25 years including Bobby McFerrin, Roy Haynes, Gary Burton, Joshua Redman, Christian McBride, Michael Brecker, Steve Gadd and John Patitucci.

It may not provide prelude-to-encore bliss as players sometimes seem to be visiting memory lane more than enriching it from their years of experiences. It's also less likely to appeal to those whose primary interest is Corea's fusion acts like Return To Forever and the Elektric Band since there's no synthesizers or songs associated with them to be heard. The individual discs seem light on length considering each is compiled from two nights of performances. Keeping lesser moments out is often better than using it as filler but, with less than an hour of music and no extra content such as commentaries on each, it's hard to believe there isn't more worthy material that would fit easily.

But while fiscal considerations should not be factored into artistic merit, the $99 retail price is a bargain and those finding half the material to their liking will get plenty for their money.

Sound quality is mostly top-notch, although Corea's opening narratives and some of the more muted passages could use amplification. Camera work is fine without being remarkable, and probably most enjoyable during the duets where the conveyance of intimacy is much superior to the quick-cut approach of larger groups. A guidebook provides short details about each group and thoughts by Corea about his fellow players. A non-performance gripe: the fold-open disc package seems flimsy, with DVDs often not fully seated and the holders themselves coming unglued after less than two weeks of frequent use.

The diversity of the groups means plenty of variety in the standards, suites, improvisations and modern originals performed, a welcome break from the mostly unchanging set lists in numerous other boxed sets from extended club bookings. Still, it's a joyride listening to three different ensembles do three very different arrangements of "Spain," perhaps Corea's most popular composition, where it takes on whimsical, intense and uncharacteristically subtle personalities.

Starting with the last disc may be smart for newcomers to Corea or the Rendezvous session, since it offers short performances and commentary from each of the groups. It's not the most impressive way of experiencing the music, but serves as a competent guide.

A look at the discs, in the order presented:

Disc 1: Chick Corea And Bobby McFerrin Duet

A smart opening choice, both commercially and artistically, as collaborations between Corea and McFerrin on albums such as Play, The Mozart Sessions and Beyond Words are creative and frequently playful (I'm at odds with a number of critics who found the former shallow and pandering). An sense of small-club intimacy is visually captured in McFerrin's constant playing to the crowd, going beyond the usual leading of scat choruses to handing the lead sheet of "Smile" to a middle-age brunette in the audience who sings it liltingly with surprising verve. McFerrin flubs the lyrics of "Autumn Leaves," but no one's here's to hear that - the compatibility between his wide-ranging wordless vocalizing and Corea's constantly attentive support is the main attraction. Banjo master Bela Fleck, who happened to be in town during the reunion, sits in on "Spain" and is in his usual virtuoso form. But aside from the visuals there's also little fresh for those familiar with the duet's previous work. A likely crowd-pleaser, but may not get as many airings long-term as some subsequent discs.

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