Khan Jamal and Chick Corea at the Kimmel Center
October 14, 2005
This was a delightful evening of the Past Present-ed. Khan Jamal and Chick Corea are both legendary jazz masters who began their careers in the fateful 1960's and have continued to be productive right down to the New Milennium. They evoke those magical times when bebop transformed into hard bop and the music blossomed with the likes of Hancock, Coltrane, Miles Davis, and so many other innovators. At the same time, their playing is as fresh and creative as ever. Their performances evoked one common emotion: listening pleasure.
Jamal peformed his vibraphone prestigitations in a twilight concert on a sound stage in the Kimmel Plaza, with a very sophisticated and select listening audience and two sets of jazz standards, including Sonny Rollins' "Sonnymoon for Two, Thelonious Monk's "Straight No Chaser," John Coltrane's "Impressions , Duke Ellington's "In a Sentimental Mood, Miles Davis' "All Blues, and Jamal's own classic, "Nubian Queen. He was accompanied by an always creative Warren Oree on bass and a precise and dynamic Dwight James on drums. I was especially impressed by James' percussion work. I've rarely heard such fine articulation and steady power from a drummer. He should be better known. All these guys are Philly-based, and just another example of the remarkable quality of the jazz musicians in this city.
Jamal plays in the tradition of Coltrane, partly via the mutual influence of Byard Lancaster, who worked with both Coltrane and Jamal. He performs with utmost concentration and discipline, perfect timing, absolutely no wasted motion, without sentimentality, but with complete mastery and consistency. His understanding seems to me to be modal more than harmonic, a la classical composer Bela Bartok, and the Miles Davis of the Kind of Blue period. He works with elements of repetition of motifs and interesting modulations and occasional dissonances to weave a tapestry of continous movement reminiscent of Trane's "sheets of sound. Jamal is noted for his African music tonalities, and suggestions of these were present in this performance, but the overall impact, for me at least, was that of "straight ahead jazz distilled into its very essence. Jamal has "the thing , "the feel for musical lines that only a select few of the players possess. Charlie Parker had it. Coltrane had it. Elvin Jones had it. J.J. Johnson had it. "It is the stylistic "center, the straight-ahead "way of the bebop and hard bop forms. I introduced myself to Mr. Jamal and told him what an honor it was to hear him.
Following Jamal's sets, a large crowd filed into Verizon Hall to hear the still very popular Chick Corea and his current group, consisting of Jorge Pardo on saxophones and flutes, Tom Brechtlein on drums, Carles Benavent on bass, and Reuben Dantas on percussion. Corea and company were relaxed and comfortable even in this large auditorium, and created an intimate atmosphere very conducive to listening. Corea introduced the musicians, with a special nod to Dantas, whose work he admires greatly, and stating that he was not going to give the names of the tunes. At first, I balked inwardly, thinking that such a move was a bit cultish and depriving, but I then realized that the names of songs sometimes detract from the music that is being created at the moment, which is not always related to the first eight bars of the melody. I was able to listen with a fresh perspective without worrying about the originating tune itself. Unfortunately, though, I can't tell you what they played! But it sure was good!!
The musical energy the group generated was vintage Chick Corea, a highly creative flaring up of diverse variations with a Latin rhythmic base, but thankfully without that "dance floor salsa sound that muddies up even some of the best Latin jazz groups. There was just a steady flow of ideas, images, and melodic lines, with a sense of originality and creativity that Mr. Corea encourages and stimulates in his groups. For example, bass guitarist Carles Benavent played with a tautness and electricity reminiscent of the great Pat Martinopulling the music into his sphere of influence. Jorge Pardo played three different flutes with a rare virtuosity and beauty that Herbie Mann would envy. (He was a bit less effective on saxophone, I thought.) Tom Brechtlein and Reuben Dantas had obvious rapport and mutual appreciation as they generated relaxed but pulsating rhythms.
The evening ended on a surprise note, with Bobby McFerrin making a cameo appearance. Corea and McFerrin have worked together, and the latter dropped in at Corea's invitation to cap the night with a rendition of "Captain Marvel."
I've reviewed several of the Kimmel/Mellon Jazz Festival events over the past two years, and really am impressed with the rich variety of styles and approaches which Kimmel Program Director Mervon Mehta has put together for these shows. My understanding of the music has expanded as a result, and I am looking forward to what the future holds at the Kimmel jazz-wise. Mr. Mehta has also devoted himself to bringing in Philadelphia based musicians such as Pat Martino, Joey DeFrancesco, and Jim Ridl as well as those with local origins such as Ravi Coltrane and Michael Brecker. This reflects the Kimmel's commitment to the city's populist base. The term "Philadelphia Sound usually refers to the lush string section of the Philadelphia Orchestra, but I like to think that in time it may also come to allude to the collective contributions of the generations of great jazz performers who hail from this region.
Victor L. Schermer