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Under the auspices of Chick Corea's 60th birthday and the Blue Note's 20th anniversary, the pianist has taken up a three-week residence at the club, revisiting some of the varied incarnations of his career. While unfortunately Circle will not reunite and blessedly neither will Return to Forever, Corea fans will no doubt be satisfied with at least one of the projects he revives. Excluding the duet performance with vibraphonist Gary Burton, which promises to be mellow fun, the event of note is the reassembling of Corea late '60's trio with Vitous and Haynes. Predating Corea's work with Davis, and Vitous' association with Weather Report (Haynes of course was well established by this point), "Now He Sings Now He Sobs" is one of the perfect realizations of the piano trio format. Each musician was pushing the boundaries of their instrument, improvising with rarely matched empathy on first-rate material (a parallel can be drawn to Howard Riley's trio work of the same time with Barry Guy and Tony Oxley). Unfortunately, Corea's group did not tour at the time and came together only briefly during the early '80's for a tour and two ECM albums. Corea's stature did have a positive effect on the Blue Note. Two problems oft encountered at this tourist-infested club are painfully short sets for the money and impolite audience chatter. At least for these four sets, the playing time was at least 80 minutes per set and the club was quiet and attentive throughout. Lamentably, no set was consistently spectacular. To go to only one set was to be somewhat disappointed; the impression across both nights was much better. Corea's career followed many twists and turns after the release of "Now He Sings". Interestingly enough, he has come full circle (no pun intended) to where a reunion with this trio fits with his current musical style. Unfortunately, this is unlikely to be more than mere nostalgia. Playing together frequently could bring this group back close to its former splendor.
The three did take a while to become reacquainted with each other, the sets gathering steam as they went along. Symptomatic of the long layoff, the material was two-thirds standards, primarily obvious Monk selections. Many were disappointed that there was not more material from the first album, made worse by the playing of "Matrix" in each set rather than some of the more engaging material, the title track for instance. Moreover, there was absolutely no need for Corea's wife, one-time fusioneer chanteuse Gayle Moran, to have any stage time.
Material aside, the playing was gratifying overall. Corea has become a very deliberate player, his style firmly formulated after years of style hopping. It was fascinating to hear his approach to pieces he wrote over thirty years ago. While his playing has never strayed far from ornate right-hand flourishes, it seems more effortless belying a certain lack of innovation. His most interesting contributions were during the drum and bass breaks, adding colorful embellishments and ascending runs to expand the textures of the solo sections. The highlights of the shows were the few selections from the first album, "Windows" and "What Was" in particular, that made him more attentive to his playing in a way that the standards didn't.
The real attraction for many was the opportunity to hear Miroslav Vitous play. His live appearances are almost non-existent. The time spent away from live playing was obvious, exacerbated by his minimal presence in the house mix on the first night. However, as the sets progressed, his natural virtuosity reasserted itself. His approach is so unique and his soloing abilities so compelling that he could easily match those peers from the '60's and '70's still playing regularly. After gaining confidence, he delighted the crowd with thrilling interval jumps and lightning-fast runs. Unlike many other bassists, he grounded his solos firmly in the themes of the pieces, creating beautiful melodic statements rather than the aimless lines that make bass solos almost universally dreaded. While he has lost some of the thick percussive tone he showed to great effect on his early solo albums and appearances in the '60's, he still utilizes unusual rhythmic pauses to simultaneously jar listeners and propel them forward towards the next idea.
Simply put, Roy Haynes is as good as he ever was and could teach drummers one-third his age a thing or two.
Though not quite "history-in-the-making" as the Blue Note claimed, this was one of the more important shows to see this year. It is not often that three musicians of equal abilities play together, especially after essentially 30 years apart. One can only imagine this trio after a solid tour together.
Jazz is a continuing revelation. The best show I ever attended was the
Roots Picnic at Penn's Landing in Philadelphia, or was it Robert
Glasper's Experiment at Lincoln Center, or was it Chick Corea with
Brian Blade at Oberlin College? Most of all I enjoy playing guitar and
composing beats with my Brooklyn-based group Space Captain.