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Live Reviews

Chick Corea / Christian McBride / Brian Blade: Ottawa, Canada, October 3, 2010

Chick Corea / Christian McBride / Brian Blade: Ottawa, Canada, October 3, 2010
By Published: October 12, 2010

Corea, ever the mischievous, puckish protagonist, created a context where the music centered on high-spirited playfulness: pushed and pulled; twisted and turned; and obliquely refracted--as much about the journey as it was the destination.

Chick Corea Trio: Chick Corea / Christian McBride / Brian Blade
Dominion Chalmers Church
Ottawa, Canada
October 3, 2010

The last time Chick Corea came to Ottawa with a trio, it was for an informal and relatively unrehearsed show that, featuring old friends Eddie Gomez
Eddie Gomez
Eddie Gomez
b.1944
bass
(bass) and Airto Moreira
Airto Moreira
Airto Moreira
b.1941
percussion
(drums), relied more on longstanding chemistry and a seemingly pulled-out-of-the-hat repertoire that felt a lot like being a fly on the wall of the pianist's living room. A 2008 appearance, at the TD Ottawa International Jazz Festival, found the veteran pianist back with the reunited Return to Forever
Return to Forever
Return to Forever

band/orchestra
, complete with banks of amps and an arsenal of keyboards, to revisit his legendary fusion group's glory days of the 1970s. And so, other than knowing that this was to be a group not to be missed—a new trio featuring two relatively new but ubiquitous friends in bassist Christian McBride
Christian McBride
Christian McBride
b.1972
bass
and drummer Brian Blade
Brian Blade
Brian Blade
b.1970
drums
—the near-sold out crowd at Ottawa, Canada's Dominion Chalmers Church had absolutely no idea what they'd be hearing when they bought their tickets to this, the Ottawa Jazz Festival's opening show of its 2010/11 Fall/Winter Series, other than it was going to be good. Very, very good.

Chick Corea

And they were right. With a repertoire that weighed heavily on new writing, or new arrangements of older material, Corea, McBride and Blade put on a show that drew an enthusiastic response from the crowd throughout its roughly 90-minute set. While every show of the tour is being recorded for a possible live album, Corea confirmed, after the show, that firm plans have yet to be put into place. Based on the trio's Ottawa show—a combination of exhilarating and near-exhausting virtuosity, balanced with the nuanced understatement of three players with nothing to prove—it'll be a crime if a live album doesn't see the light of day. Beyond the stunning playing and a wealth of fine material, what elevated this performance above Corea's other recent visits to town was its palpable sense of fun, with plenty of smiles all around and no shortage of laughter either, as Corea, ever the mischievous, puckish protagonist, created a context where the music—despite some fairly knotty arrangements— centered on high-spirited playfulness: pushed and pulled; twisted and turned; and obliquely refracted—as much about the journey as it was the destination.

Opening on a relatively subdued note with a delicate version of the late Joe Henderson
Joe Henderson
Joe Henderson
1937 - 2001
sax, tenor
's "Serenity" and a compelling rework of classical composer Alexander Scriabin's etude, "Opus 11, No. 2" (here expanded from its original miniature into a more extended opportunity for Corea to demonstrate his particularly vivid rhythmic sense), the trio gradually picked up steam throughout the set, as it revamped a lesser-known but quirky-as-expected tune from the Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Monk
1917 - 1982
piano
repertoire, "Work," first recorded on Thelonious Monk & Sonny Rollins (OJC, 1955).

Christian McBride

The group then moved into a series of mostly new compositions, written specifically for the trio. Two tracks, composed nearly 45 years apart, richly referred to Corea's longstanding interest in the cross-pollination of jazz and Spanish music: "Homage," which featured a solo piano intro marrying the pianist's percussive attack with his equally lithe and delicate touch; and a new, more complex arrangement of the title track to Corea's early trio classic with bassist Miroslav Vitous
Miroslav Vitous
Miroslav Vitous
b.1947
bass
and drummer Roy Haynes
Roy Haynes
Roy Haynes
b.1926
drums
, Now He Sings, Now He Sobs (Solid State, 1966), which began with Blade gradually building on a military march. McBride's "Song for Rosa," a dedication to civil rights activist Rosa Parks, provided some of the set's most incendiary moments, in particular, the bassist's solo—a limber dovetail to Corea, where the bassist approached near-impossible feats of speed, dexterity and, equally important, accuracy and allegiance to the song's fundamentals—but also demonstrating the trio's remarkable ability to work with dynamics. Dominion Chalmers, with its high cathedral ceiling, can be a tough room—especially when there's a drummer—but Corea, McBride and Blade played the room like the pros they are, especially Blade, who kept his touch light for the most part, but made the most of an ability to turn a single rim shot into a cannon going off; but always at the right moment, to provide sharp contrast or dramatic punctuation.

The drummer's own compositional contribution, "Alpha and Omega," was a numinous tone poem, and a strong endorsement of Blade as more than "just" a drummer: his Fellowship Band, heard most recently on Season of Changes (Verve, 2008) and featuring Blade's distinctive writing, has become one of modern jazz's most influential groups; while Mama Rosa (Verve, 2009) has proven Blade—not surprisingly, based on his often richly thematic and song-form-like writing for Fellowship—to be a deeply spiritual, warm and honest singer/songwriter. Still, "Alpha and Omega" was a relatively abstract contrast to his Americana-centric writing—like Season of Changes' melodically memorable "Stoner Hill"—demonstrating, perhaps, a new compositional direction that still manages to reflect the many interests that Blade has had the opportunity to explore and develop with Fellowship.

Brian Blade

The trio closed the set with "Fingerprints," Corea's answer to saxophonist Wayne Shorter
Wayne Shorter
Wayne Shorter
b.1933
saxophone
"s iconic "Footprints." First appearing on Past, Present and Futures (Stretch, 2001), with his then "New Trio" of bassist Avishai Cohen
Avishai Cohen
Avishai Cohen
b.1971
bass
and drummer Jeff Ballard
Jeff Ballard
Jeff Ballard
b.1963
drums
, and later revisited on the Chillin' in Chelan disc of his Japan-only Five Trios (Stretch, 2007) box set—again with Ballard but, this time, with McBride onboard—the Ottawa performance raised the bar even higher, with Blade, in particular, delivering a set-defining solo as his body, at one point, raised off his drum stool as he pushed forward with reckless abandon and near-brute force. McBride and Corea delivered equally visceral solos, driving the audience immediately to its feet at its powerful conclusion, demanding an encore which brought the concert full circle—ending, as it began, with a Joe Henderson tune, this time the better-known "Isotope."

Despite turning 70 next year, Corea's career—like a number peers including guitarist John McLaughlin
John McLaughlin
John McLaughlin
b.1942
guitar
, with whom the pianist collaborated for the Five Peace Band (Stretch, 2009) album, and a tour that brought the quintet (also featuring McBride, Blade and saxophonist Kenny Garrett
Kenny Garrett
Kenny Garrett
b.1960
sax, alto
) to Montreal in the spring of the same year—is actually picking up speed, with 34 dates booked between now and the end of 2010. Blade, in addition to working on material for a new Fellowship album and a follow-up to Mama Rosa, is equally booked out, with more dates in this trio, half a dozen Fellowship dates and a special concert for the Portland Rescue Mission, organized by singer/songwriter Emmylou Harris. In addition to dates with Corea and his own Inside Straight band, McBride has three albums in the can, all in need of mixing for release beginning in 2011, including his first ever big band record.

As busy as everyone is, it only made the stunning display of collective virtuosity and empathic chemistry all the more remarkable, especially considering that this date was only the fifth show of the tour. It was a tremendous way to kick-off the Ottawa Jazz Festival Fall/Winter season; if the rest of its program is anywhere near this good, then Ottawa jazz fans are in for a very good year.

Photo Credit

All Photos: John Kelman


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