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Chick Corea Trio at Highland Ballroom October 1, 2010

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Chick Corea Trio
Highline Ballroom
New York City, USA
October 1, 2010

Well, that was unexpected. Imagine a Chick Corea trio show where the pianist is not the centerpiece of the performance. In fact, his piano plays as much rhythm as the bass and drums. A trio of equals. Then you would have some idea of what was presented at the Highline Ballroom in New York after the rain had finally subsided. Two people at my table who had never seen Corea before commented, "That was special!" And it was. But it was different, it was new, and it was surprising.

Give Corea credit. There were no trademark, lightning-quick runs. There was no vanity. He simply reveled in the high level of music and communication created by and between himself, bassist Christian McBride, and drummer Brian Blade. Sometimes, coming up with something new requires only an openness to its creation, And every member of this trio certainly had open ears. It was refreshing to hear from a leader who has every right to sit on his laurels.

Make no mistake, this was still a Chick Corea concert. The first tune, a 20- minute medley newly penned by the leader, slithered through its Spanish and Arabian influences like a miniature, acoustic Elektric Band album, with a seemingly countless number of different themes emerging about halfway through. And, as with any Corea show, there was a real sense of humor in the music. After the exhausting piece ended, Corea simply picked up the microphone and said, "Well, that was that one."

McBride and Blade were nothing short of revelatory. The bassist is a walking encyclopedia of classic jazz and black music, and somehow manages to combine all his influences into a style that is quite simple and always grooves. There are two distinct sides to McBride in an acoustic setting: first, the rhythm player and timekeeper (nobody walks a bass line as effortlessly as McBride); and then, out of nowhere, McBride the soloist, his upright bass becoming both a guitar and mouthpiece for new ideas, each solo, without fail, including passages with staggering flurries of notes. Both sides were on full display during the second tune, "Sister Rosa," a new McBride composition in honor of Rosa Parks. The tune possessed a distinct groove, underscored by Blade's subtle drumming. McBride showed his trademark ear-to-ear wry smile throughout.

Blade is no longer a musician; he is a conveyor of feelings. Watching him play, technique is thrown out the door. A drummer, sitting at the same table, professed wonder at how Blade was able to create the sounds he did without any discernible technique. He plays completely on feel, frequently looking up from his kit and locking in with his band mates or simply closing his eyes and losing himself in a world of sounds. Here, he painted the corners of the music, putting on the proverbial finishing touches. Even his own "Alpha and Omega" was nothing more than a sketch—more an atmosphere than a combination of notes—expertly interpreted by Corea and McBride.

After a set-closing romp through "Fingerprints," Corea's interpretation of Wayne Shorter's "Footprints," it felt like the air and all the tension had been let out of the room. The band was called back for an encore, and laughed all the way through their playful version of "Think Of One." Rightfully exhausted after such a concentrated period of creation, this trio of equals locked arms and took a bow. At times, the staid crowd didn't know what to make of what they were hearing. But this was new, hip, vibrant music. At times, the group's experiments fell flat, but that is to be expected from spontaneous creation. Here's hoping that Corea continues to experiment.

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