Remember when CDs were so expensive to make that record companies would release double albums and remove a track or two, just so that it could fit on a single CD? Well, there may be many negatives about the state of the music industry today---despite this being a time when so much music is being made that, like the glory days in the 1960s/70s, it seems like anything is possible...there's just no more industry support to help any of it reach the same number of peoplebut one good thing is that the price of manufacturing a CD has dropped so much that artists like the SFJAZZ Collective can regularly release double or triple CD collections of the music toured each year, when the group pays tribute to a different artist by having each member contribute an arrangement of a favourite song by the honoree, as well as another original composition in his/her spirit, like its loving 2013 homage to pianist Chick Corea, Live SFJAZZ Center 2013The Music Of Chick Corea & New Compositions (SFJAZZ, 2013).
Well, it turns out that Corea has his own multi-disc live set on offer this year: Trilogy, a whopping three-disc, nearly three-and-a-half hour collection of music culled from various dates in his extensive world tour with bassist Christian McBride and drummer Brian Blade. Corea's trio combines original material old and new, with a healthy dose of jazz standards, songs from the Great American Songbook...even one classical piece, liberally reinterpreted by this masterful, virtuosic and eminently swinging group.
When the trio made a 2010 stop in Ottawa, Canada as part of the TD Ottawa Jazz Festival's off-season program, there'd been no prior announcements about what the trio would be doing. With McBride and Blade first teaming up together in Corea's fusion-heavy Five Peace Band collaboration with guitarist John McLaughlin, including a 2009 Montreal performance that virtually lifted the roof off Place des Arts' Salle Wilfred-Pelletierand with the pianist last playing Ottawa in 2006 with longtime friends and musical collaborators Eddie Gomez and Airto Moreira in a trio that augmented Corea's grand piano with plenty of Fender Rhodes and synththere was every reason to expect that his trio with McBride and Blade might be configured along similar lines.
How wrong everyone was. Instead, it was an all-acoustic affair that, by the end of 90 minutes of breathtaking interaction and, in particular from the puckish Corea, plenty of mischievous musical fun, many in the nearly sold-out Dominion Chalmers Church crowd were wondering it there'd ever be a release from this exceptional trio. Well, it's been a long, long waitnearly four yearsbut Trilogy absolutely meets any expectations and, in fact, with one small exception, completely exceeds them.
Very little of the music performed at the Ottawa show made it onto this three-disc, 17-song set where Corea, McBride and Blade take their time with almost all the material: only a bright, Latinesque version of Joe Henderson's "Recorda Me" and a quirky but effervescently swinging take of Thelonious Monk's rarely covered "Work," first heard on Thelonious Monk & Sonny Rollins (OJC, 1955), drop below the nine-minute mark, while Corea's epic "Piano Sonata: The Moon," part of a larger suite that, at this time, remains unfinished, clocks in just one second shy of the thirty-minute mark.
That piece may not be Trilogy's centrepiece in terms of positioning (it opens the third disc), but it absolutely is, in terms of demonstrating just how simpatico and capable this trio can be in navigating both complex compositional constructs and more open-ended improvisational forays. "I thought it would be ideal," Corea says in the press release, "to expand it in this trio setting since Christian and Brian are so adept at reading and interpreting tricky scores. We spent time weaving together written sections with the improvised sections."
Corea has had many trios over the years, and this one certainly ranks amongst his most memorable. Capable of swinging amiably on the set-opening "You're My Everything"though Blade's now-signature explosive punctuations are never far awayand burning much more fiercely on an exhilaratingly up-tempo version of "Fingerprints," Corea's answer to Wayne Shorter's classic "Footprints," this is a trio that possesses all the necessary muscle to work with Corea's often percussive pianism, while being equally adept at more refined elegance on a generous reading of "Alice in Wonderland," the Sammy Fain composition made popular in the jazz world by pianist Bill Evans that here contains one of McBride's most compelling solos of the set: robust yet effortlessly lyrical.
Two tracks, culled from a Madrid performance at the end of a European tour leg, feature flautist Jorge Pardolast heard with Corea on The Ultimate Adventure (Stretch, 2006)and guitarist Niño Josele: Corea's recent tribute to the late Paco De Lucia, "Homage"; and an appropriately flamenco-driven look at his classic "Spain" that begins with an a cappella guitar solo of stunning virtuosity that morphs into a lengthy rubato introduction with everyone in the pool. Corea slowly introduces a rhythm-heavy pedal tone-based solo that gradually finds its way to the song's familiar changes, but the near-iconic theme is only revealed after Pardo takes a similarly impressive turn more than halfway through this epic 18-minute reinvention.
The only misstepas seems to be the case with other live Corea recordings like Rhumba Flamenco: Live in Europe (Stretch, 2005)is a feature for his wife, vocalist Gayle Moran. As ever, Moran possesses a beautiful voice of unique purity; the problem is, however, that while Corea has utilized her voice to great effect in the past with multilayered choral tracks on albums like The Leprechaun (Polydor, 1976) and My Spanish Heart (Polydor, 1976), when Moran sings standards, as she does here with "Someday My Prince Will Come," she's simply too pure. Perhaps the biggest misstep of all is ending the album with Moran's guest spot, but after three hours and fifteen minutes of transcendence, a brief ten minutes of less-than-perfection doesn't represent such a bad signal-to-noise ratio.
Impeccably recorded by Corea's longtime recording engineer Bernie Kirsh, Trilogy leaps out of the speakers with pristine clarity and visceral punch. After last year's exceptional electric excursion, The Vigil (Stretch, 2013), Trilogy is also a reminder that Corea's allegiance to the tradition is as complete as ever, and that he's in very good company with McBride and, in particular, Blade, who hasn't done an in-the-tradition, hard-swinging session like this in quite some time.
It's hard to believe that Corea is now 73 years old but, if anything, he's never been more activeand, with albums as superb as Trilogy, in the company of the equally outstanding McBride and Blade, clearly at the top of his game.
CD1: You're My Everything; Recorda Me; The Song is You; Work; My Foolish Heart;
Fingerprints; Spain. CD2: This is Now; Alice in Wonderland; It Could Happen to You;
Blue Monk; Armando's Rhumba; Op. 11, no. 9; How Deep is the Ocean?. CD3:
Homage; Piano Sonata: The Moon; Someday My Prince Will Come.
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