Pianist Chick Corea and Gary Burton (vibes and marimba) have put together a new disc of duets, Native Sense, and it can be summed up in one word: lovely. This is the fifth duet recording from these two; their interaction shows the ease and comfort of a long association, even though the last release was twelve years ago. For Native Sense, Corea tells us in his liner notes, he wrote two new melodies: "Post Script" and "Rhumbata." Three other numbers, "Love Castle," "No Mystery," and "Duende" were, says the pianist, "previously written and recorded by myself with other groups but never performed very much afterwards." "Armando's Rhumba" is a piece the two have been performing live for a few years. "Tango '92" is an unused soundtrack piece. For dessert, Corea and Burton turn in a delightful version of Thelonious Monk's "Four in One."
The centerpiece of this album is a pair of two bagatelles by the Hungarian classical composer Béla Bartók. With "Post Script" sandwiched between them, they form a mini-suite reminiscent of Keith Jarrett's tackling of another great classical modernist, Dmitri Shostakovich. On these brief pieces, where Burton shimmers with seemingly impossible delicacy, Corea makes a tentative return to territory he has scarcely visited at all in the nearly thirty years since the demise of his avant-jazz quartet with Anthony Braxton, Circle. Bartók has just the sort of harmonic sensibility that Braxton has mined so doggedly since Chick took off for the more fertile pastures of Scientology and Return to Forever; Bartók's "Bagatelle #2" sounds like the lighter side of, say, "Composition 40F." Here Corea's butterfly-wing lightness, however, demonstrates his long-standing commitment to lyricism at whatever cost.
Armando Corea's Spanish roots are very much in evidence. "Armando's Rhumba" and "Rhumbata," "Tango '92," "Duende," and "Post Script" are all light (always light) Latin rhythms; in fact, scarcely anything on the album lacks a Spanish feel, whether in rhythm or a light (again) flamenco-tinged rumble from one of the principals. Even Monk's "Four In One" sounds like something Tito Puente could sink his teeth into; maybe it's the company, or Burton's spirited attack on the vibes. Both his solo and Corea's, meanwhile, seem to nod to another Monk tune, "Trinkle Tinkle," here and there.
The placement of the Monk piece at the end of the album points up how much ground the two have actually covered in one CD's length. Yet from rhumbas to Bartók to Monk, they remain unruffled, pleasant, and assured. While never losing their light touch, on Native Sense they a clearly enjoying the fruits of a long and rewarding partnership.