Chick Corea Rendezvous in New York Image Entertainment
This may not be the ultimate Chick Corea collection, but fans aren't likely to find a better one on video anytime soon.
A near-complete portrait of the legendary pianist's non-fusion career is captured on the 10-DVD Rendezvous In New York boxed set, featuring performances from his three-week run of reunion concerts at the New York's Blue Note in 2003 to celebrate his 60th birthday. Those craving more after hearing the Grammy-nominated double-CD released that year under the same name will find the extended material equally satisfying. It also stands commendably on its own as a showcase for some of the most talented musicians from the past 25 years including Bobby McFerrin, Roy Haynes, Gary Burton, Joshua Redman, Christian McBride, Michael Brecker, Steve Gadd and John Patitucci.
It may not provide prelude-to-encore bliss as players sometimes seem to be visiting memory lane more than enriching it from their years of experiences. It's also less likely to appeal to those whose primary interest is Corea's fusion acts like Return To Forever and the Elektric Band since there's no synthesizers or songs associated with them to be heard. The individual discs seem light on length considering each is compiled from two nights of performances. Keeping lesser moments out is often better than using it as filler but, with less than an hour of music and no extra content such as commentaries on each, it's hard to believe there isn't more worthy material that would fit easily.
But while fiscal considerations should not be factored into artistic merit, the $99 retail price is a bargain and those finding half the material to their liking will get plenty for their money.
Sound quality is mostly top-notch, although Corea's opening narratives and some of the more muted passages could use amplification. Camera work is fine without being remarkable, and probably most enjoyable during the duets where the conveyance of intimacy is much superior to the quick-cut approach of larger groups. A guidebook provides short details about each group and thoughts by Corea about his fellow players. A non-performance gripe: the fold-open disc package seems flimsy, with DVDs often not fully seated and the holders themselves coming unglued after less than two weeks of frequent use.
The diversity of the groups means plenty of variety in the standards, suites, improvisations and modern originals performed, a welcome break from the mostly unchanging set lists in numerous other boxed sets from extended club bookings. Still, it's a joyride listening to three different ensembles do three very different arrangements of "Spain," perhaps Corea's most popular composition, where it takes on whimsical, intense and uncharacteristically subtle personalities.
Starting with the last disc may be smart for newcomers to Corea or the Rendezvous session, since it offers short performances and commentary from each of the groups. It's not the most impressive way of experiencing the music, but serves as a competent guide.
A look at the discs, in the order presented:
Disc 1: Chick Corea And Bobby McFerrin Duet
A smart opening choice, both commercially and artistically, as collaborations between Corea and McFerrin on albums such as Play, The Mozart Sessions and Beyond Words are creative and frequently playful (I'm at odds with a number of critics who found the former shallow and pandering). An sense of small-club intimacy is visually captured in McFerrin's constant playing to the crowd, going beyond the usual leading of scat choruses to handing the lead sheet of "Smile" to a middle-age brunette in the audience who sings it liltingly with surprising verve. McFerrin flubs the lyrics of "Autumn Leaves," but no one's here's to hear that - the compatibility between his wide-ranging wordless vocalizing and Corea's constantly attentive support is the main attraction. Banjo master Bela Fleck, who happened to be in town during the reunion, sits in on "Spain" and is in his usual virtuoso form. But aside from the visuals there's also little fresh for those familiar with the duet's previous work. A likely crowd-pleaser, but may not get as many airings long-term as some subsequent discs.
Disc 2: Now He Sings, Now He Sobs Trio
This is the furthest journey back in time as bassist Miroslav Vitous and drummer Roy Haynes join Corea in a reunion of their 1967 recording, one of the pianist's first projects as a leader (they also reunited during the early 1980s). Corea, working with Haynes as part of saxophonist Stan Getz's quartet at the time, said he liked Haynes' "bubbling" technique and recruited Vitous after hearing what he described as a loose and unique style. All three remain in top form and show it on this DVD, but it doesn't satisfy the way the best of the collection does. Partially it may be the original album was fresher, as Corea was shifting from hard-bop toward freer jazz during what some consider the best work of his career. The current performance lacks some of that edge and too often the pianist dominates with the skilled, but familiar, chops heard often during the latter part of his career. Some purists are likely to be more kind, especially toward Haynes and Vitous, but ultimately other discs with more distinction also end up being of greater interest.
Disc 3: Remembering Bud Powell Band
One of the highlights and it's hard to image otherwise, given the lineup and Powell's influence on Corea. The quintet's 1997 album is often considered the best of Corea's latter years and their reunion of all-Powell material is a lively session of tight, strong bop with modern flair. There are a mere three songs (the first combining two compositions), giving everyone more than ample space. Trumpeter Terence Blanchard and saxophonist Joshua Redman are at their no-nonsense best, whether trading shots or soloing at length. Haynes, one of three sidemen appearing more than once, plays with more energy (although some may argue less supremacy) than Disc 2, and his exchanges with Corea on "Oblivion" have the distinctiveness and humor of a children's storybook. The drummer shines again at the end of the closing "Un Poco Loco," icing on the well-played and well- arranged buildup from the collective.
Disc 4: Chick Corea And Gary Burton Duet
Perhaps the most sedate performance, it's likely to be subject to mixed opinions. But it succeeds in its goal of showcasing the compatibility of communication and technique the two have developed from occasional projects since the late 1960s. Corea calls the vibraphonist a master at wringing sophisticated thoughts and timbres from a primitive instrument, and subtlety is indeed the watchword throughout this disc. Corea backs off much of the obvious shadings some of the other sessions are overly colored by, and the understated volume and pace should not be mistaken for lack of intensity. The concentration between two is evident and it's a case where their combined timbres deserves as much concentration as their phrasing.
Disc 5: Chick Corea Akoustic Band
Corea's subset of the popular Elektric Band is note-for-note worthy in their reunion after roughly 15 years, with bassist John Patitucci and drummer Dave Weckl playing standards closer to the sophistication of their acclaimed studio disc than their blazing but less well-received live album (I confess I'm among those preferring the latter). That means Weckl isn't doing extended 21st century fusion-like wailing on "Humpty Dumpty" (moments like that put me in the minority preferring their latter album), but Corea and Pattitucci are well within the realm of their old stomping grounds - in fact the latter is so consistently a virtuosso one starts to take it for granted and expect it during this show. As such it will likely be enjoyable to most fans of the band but, after hearing other live material from their first go-round on import albums and other performances, there doesn't seem to be much new development. It does offer good stylistic insight into one of the transition points for Corea between "Now He Sings Now He Sobs" and the New Trio (see Disc 8 below).
Disc 6: Chick Corea And Origin
A relatively contemporary part of the collection, this Spanish/Latin show features a three- horn sextet formed by Corea druing the late 1990s. Fans familiar with the group's live debut album or boxed set from that Blue Note session won't find much new here, but it remains a strong ensemble and there's little to criticize about their reunion. They play only four songs - two lively, two laid back - allowing for plenty of individual and group improvisations that allow personalities to emerge. The reflective "Armando's Tango" is a good showcase as it allows saxophonists Steve Wilson and Tim Garland and trombonist Steve Davis lots of space for verbiage, and bassist Avishai Cohen establishes himself as one of the show's highlights with bowing that is both harmonically and poetically intricate. Drummer Jeff Ballard's bare-hand technique is an idea compliment for Cohen, a combination they revisit as a trio with Corea on Disc 8. On
Disc 7: Chick Corea And Gonzalo Rubalcaba Duet
This piano collage is a listener's gem as Corea and Rubalcaba exchange nimble-note exclamations and musings full of wit, intelligence and Latin spirit. The liner notes start by noting each player's background as a working percussionist and those quick-hit influences are on full display as they battle each other - tastefully, without bombast - on the opening "Toccata (Improv 7)." They immediately take it down to the opposite, but no less accomplished, scale with a developing exchange of ballad phrases on the appropriately named "Melodic Conversation." The showman flourishes are here, such as Corea opening "Caravan" with dramatic conducting flourishes and playing mallets on his piano body as Rubalcaba's attacks the keys more traditionally. But even popular fare gets detailed treatment, closing "Concierto De Aranjuez/Spain" with delicacy and subtlety, letting the usually steamy composition wind down to a fade out, making the final moment one of silence rather than shouting.
Disc 8: Chick Corea New Trio
As Corea's only current group appearing at the Rendezvous this straight-ahead session offers a more complex and less-in-you-face brand of contemporary mainstream than the Akoustic Band. That said, the six compositions are all credited to Corea's father, Armando, leader of his own dixieland band as far back as the 1930s. The New Trio, a subset of the Origin band, has the same Spanish/Latin shadings of the full group in a somewhat more subdued package. Bassist Avishai Cohen benefits from the additional time as he can gallop on "Nostalgia" and expand on his interchanges with drummer Jeff Ballard. Ballard doesn't have Weckl's distinctiveness or Haynes' stature, but passages like his long and understated rolling solo on "Revolving Door" are worth focusing on. It's not flawless; the opening "La Fiesta" is nothing special and in general this isn't anything stretching modern boundaries. But it holds its own against the two other trio DVDs in this, each of which is likely to be favored by different listeners based on the traits of the supporting cast.
Disc 9: Three Quartets Band
The lineup alone - saxophonist Michael Brecker, bassist Eddie Gomez and drummer Steve Gadd - speaks volumes about the era and style of the four Corea-penned "Quartet" compositions performed here. The mostly up-tempo selections stretch from post-bop to high-concept fusion and, if not cutting edge, offer meat-and-potatoes substance from one of the pianist's more underrated groups. Brecker's piercing and relatively intense soloing and Gomez's more laid back pluckings are great studies in contrasting approches that both work in the same composition. Gadd shines nicely in a variety of complex support textures, although he doesn't get the prominence or hit the highs Haynes achieves at his best. Corea is solid if not necessarily special, it's his compositions and frequent deference of center stage to others that do much to elevate this show. An average to above-average part of the collection, likely to stand up to repeat listens more than some catchier but less hefty material.
Disc 10: Bonus Disc - Rendezvous In New York - The Movie
OK as a "bonus" disc, but could be much better and isn't likely to offer much to those who've already watched the others in the collection. The narration by actor Jeff Goldblum about Corea's career and the reunion session is rather fawning and empty, and many of the comments by the musicians comments are equally shallow ("Chick's a master"). Corea's comments about each band are mostly the same ones from their respective discs and the songs, like a typical greatest hits compilation, are more an overview of the players' talents than a chance to appreciate them fully. Still, there's some redeeming moments such an explanation of how Corea and Burton use similar striking approaches in their duets, followed by a performance where the camera work allows a chance to see the concept at work. Other nuggets likely to offer insight to listeners at various levels are frequent enough to avoid boredom, but more detailed interviews, performances from the groups' previous encounters, rehearsal and other behind-the-scenes moments are among the things that might make this better than one-and-done filler.
The Rendezvous In New York album earned generally strong reviews, although there were constant differences of opinions about lesser and better content, and that's likely to be the case with the expanded DVD set. But the amount and range of content place this among the top options for first-time Corea listeners and a cornerstone of those with a library of his work. A dedicated person can assemble nine albums of superior and more comprehensive live Corea material, but this is about as strong and consistently strong a representation as one will find from a singe source. Supplementing this with the 2003 DVD A Very Special Concert, featuring a reunion of Return to Forever members in a 1982 acoustic performance, and Chick Corea Elektric Band: Live at Montreux 2004 would round out the genre gap (the outstanding orchestral Corea Concerto is an audio-CD only release, denying an extended video exposure to his rare classical work). Alternatively, those not interested in the quantity or expense of the boxed sets can purchase individual Rendevous DVDs for $18 each, although their release is still pending at the time of this review.
DVD Review #2
Chick Corea: Rendezvous In New York