Chick Corea: Rendezvous in New York
“ ...one of the most important aspects...is realizing just how easily Corea adapts his evolved style into each musical situation, making each one of them different and, in their own way, special. ”
Rendezvous in New York
Legendary pianist Chick Corea sure knows how to throw a party. Most people, when they hit a milestone birthday like sixty, they go out for an extra special dinner or get together with some of their closest friends. But, of course, many of Corea's closest friends are musicians, and over a forty year career he's amassed an impressive group of them, spanning multiple generations. And, of course, he's also attracted a legion of fans that, through their support of a multifaceted career that's touched on a variety of musical contexts, have become an equally important part of his life.
So, when it came time to celebrate Corea's 60th birthday, rather than having a private affair Corea chose to park himself in New York City's Blue Note club for a three-week run. By bringing together many of the musical friends with whom he's collaborated in different projects over the years in a public venue, he was also able to share this confirmation of close amity with the audience that has, in many ways, facilitated his far-reaching musical pursuits.
A sampling of performances from his December, 2001 engagement at the Blue Note was released as a two-CD set, Rendezvous in New York (Stretch, 2003). But in many ways, with each of the nine aggregations represented by but a single track, it was more enticement than fulfilling experience. It gave evidence of the scope of Corea's involvement in acoustic jazzthis celebration ignoring any of the electric projects he's led over the yearsbut was more a brief retrospective demonstrating his incredible diversity, whetting the appetite rather than sating it.
And so, nearly four years after the event, Corea has finally released the set that has been promised since the beginning. This version of Rendezvous in New York is a whopping ten-DVD set, with nine of the discs containing close to an hour each of the nine groups of friends he brought together for the occasion, the tenth being a 100-minute documentarythat received limited theatrical release last yearthat serves as a retrospective look at Corea, with live performances from the Blue Note date and interviews with many of the musicians involved.
Some may wonder if ten DVDs of live Corea might be too much, but the truth is that this surprisingly reasonably-priced box set has something for everyone. One's tastes might lean more heavily to his Three Quartets band with saxophonist Michael Brecker, bassist Eddie Gomez and drummer Steve Gadd than, say, his duo with singer Bobby McFerrin, but one of the most important aspects of watching the entire set is realizing just how easily Corea adapts his evolved style into each musical situation, making each one of them different and, in their own way, special.
The set opens up with the McFerrin duoin some ways the misstep of the box. There's no denying McFerrin's unique vocal abilitiesoften eschewing a more conventional singer's role and emulating all manner of instruments, sometimes more than one at a time. There's also no denying the unique chemistry that Corea shares with McFerrin. As much as there are certain structural foundations, one gets the sense that every tune they play is heading into uncharted territorythat even more than the audience, they are often surprised at where the music takes them.
One thing that has long separated Corea from some of his contemporaries is a certain playfulness and a demonstrable sense of joy. There's no doubt that some of his music is deeply serious, but so much of the time the fun he's having is there for all to see, and the sprightly approach that Corea and McFerrin take on Antonio Carlos Jobim's "The Frog demonstrates it's possible to be substantive and lithe at the same time. Corea's own classic, "Spain where banjo wizard Béla Fleck sits in with an equally puckish approachis equally impressive, with all three trading off throughout, with a thoroughly relaxed and impromptu vibe.
That doesn't mean that the duo can't be serious when the song calls for it. Their take on Monk's "'Round Midnight echoes the version McFerrin recorded with Herbie Hancock for the soundtrack to Bernard Tavernier's film of the same name, and is deeply evocative, with McFerrin's trumpet-like vocalizing as inventive as Corea's own poignant approach.
But despite the clear talent and chemistry, the playfulness sometimes verges on the border of shtick. Ending the set with Charlie Chaplin's "Smile, McFerrin heads out into the crowd, soliciting a woman in the front row of the club to sing a verse. From there he encourages the entire audience to sing along while Corea wanders through the crowd with a small hand drum. It's not that jazz has to be a spectator sport, but this ultimately ends up feeling a little contrived. On the other hand, the audience is clearly having a good time, so who's to say?