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

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

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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 (bass) and Airto Moreira (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, 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 and drummer Brian Blade—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.

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'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 repertoire, "Work," first recorded on Thelonious Monk & Sonny Rollins (OJC, 1955).

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 and drummer Roy Haynes, 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.

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