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As Chick Corea, restless and creative as ever, continues to forge ahead with new musical ideas and new ensemble configurations, he has basically taken his Origin group and reduced it to its percussive core of the basic piano trio. But Corea’s music remains distinctive as always, and his new trio can’t really be mistaken for another.
Not only because Corea’s style and his mixture of Latin and jazz are so distinctive. But also because the camaraderie of Origin’s rhythm section, so deeply understanding of alternative rhythmic approaches and the music of the world’s cultures, attains a unique degree of unity in its music.
Past, Present & Futures, the trio’s first recording after touring for months, takes the compositional elements of Origin, removes the horn lines, bares the harmonic essences and dances through 11 tunes, all but one of which Corea wrote. And yes, Corea’s music does seem to be based on dance, his signature scamper and lilt a part of most of his work.
Corea’s concern on Past, Present & Futures is temporal, which makes sense for a musician. The album is dedicated in large part to Corea’s mother, Anna, who, it seems, recently passed at the age of 91. While followers of Corea will recognize his oft-recorded “Armando’s Rhumba,” he has composed “Anna’s Tango” for this album, yet another tune involving an easy flow accented by sudden pounces and a Latin feel. And “Dignity” is dedicated to her as well, its 3/4 minor tumbling of phrases resolving in a simple 8-bar chorus.
Of course, nothing is as simple as it seems with Chick Corea, and even an appealing melody like “Dignity” involves modulations that take the listener to levels unanticipated at the start of the song. Corea has recruited young rhythm players who are so in sync with his twists and turns that the works float with little apparent grounding in technical fundamentals at all. The strength of Avishai Cohen’s playing bespeaks a joy of performing that comes across even in his recorded music. Rather than backing Corea, Cohen possesses the same sense of play that comes across in the pianist’s music. Playing in unison with Corea before he breaks out in his own improvisations, Cohen proves again and again that he is one of the most versatile and imaginative young bassists on the jazz scene. Even on the meditative and soothing “Past, Present & Futures,” which Corea introduces with a repeated three-note figure, Cohen shines, bowing behind Corea and then assuming the melody on his own, subtly and melodically.
Having discovered drummer Jeff Ballard in Cohen’s group, which formed the basis for Origin, Corea’s percussiveness seems to feed Ballard ideas which he develops into even more elaborate and richly hued statements. “Life Line” contains all of the Corea leaps that one expects of his music, and Ballard deepens the tune by playing in unison but with colors that add a newer perspective to its personality.
The only non-original tune that Past, Present & Futures includes is Corea’s nod to Fats Waller for writing the first jazz waltz, “Jitterbug Waltz.” Even so, Corea substitutes his own chords for Waller’s more standard and more famous ones and develops the melody into a bell-like quality. In addition, Corea bases his composition, “Fingerprints,” on the changes of Wayne Shorter’s renowned 3/4-time “Footprints,” which becomes quite a workout for Cohen over Corea’s streams of phrasing.
In spite of Corea’s philosophizing in the liner notes about the nature of timeand how future and past converge in the presentthe listener’s interests are that Corea’s trio found the time to record on its own. And to take an evanescent entity like music and make 70 minutes of performance permanent for all time.