Corea, Clarke and White at Toronto's Koerner Hall

Alain Londes By

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Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke and Lenny White
Koerner Hall
Toronto, ON
September 2009

Koerner Hall, the sumptuous and spiffy new concert hall at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto, celebrated the second day of its grand opening festival with a sold-out jazz program to demonstrate the organizers' willingness to provide different musical genres to the vast metropolitan community. Audience members of all ages admired the new performance center.

Some of the jazz-rock fusion legends making up Return to Forever (RTF)—Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke and Lenny White—are starting a world tour, making this a special night to enjoy the exciting lineup as well as discover the new 1,135-seat performance hall.

Juno award-winner vocalist Sophie Milman opened the evening with a comfortable selection of her personal favorites while easing the crowd into the evening. Singing a few cuts from her album Take Love Easy (E1 Records, 2009), the upbeat and easy mood reflects how Milman views life and what her current direction is in her young and successful career. The sound was just right and never required the slightest change on the part of all performers.

Corea, Clarke and White brought an acoustic trio format to the evening. This was how they started to play after all before exploring the new possibilities under the guise of jazz-fusion. As the trio stepped onto the stage under welcoming applause, the members first took a look around them to view the new acoustically sensitive hall and were genuinely impressed. Clarke quietly uttered "it's a cool place" while Corea even complimented the "good piano" before he removed the near-top portion above the keys.

The evening kicked off with the straight-ahead classic "On Green Dolphin Street" introduced by a a brief piano solo. The trio then eased into the gentle "Waltz For Debby" by Bill Evans. Clarke, an acoustic bassist at heart, was at the top of his game while White's contribution was subtle but solid throughout. In fact, we would assume that they had only been an acoustic trio based on the natural chemistry and good humor that they exuded.

Those nostalgic for the RTF period in its heyday were treated to a spirited rendition of the "No Mystery" with Corea shifting effortlessly from his percussive accentuation to lyrical interludes. The percussive play shifted to the melody with Clarke handling the bow briefly for added texture before the trio moved along an energetic buildup. White accentuated the brief slowdown with choice percussion strokes on the drum rim with Clarke laying down the groove with some strong slapping action.

Such a tour de force resulted in a well-deserved standing ovation. Striking gently piano strings manually and in a somber way, Corea shifted the tempo towards his original "Pledge for Peace" before playing a classical motif. The piece was punctuated by yet another shift punctuated by Clarke's deep groove that he could have easily replicated on electric bass. The acoustic master would then raise eyebrows on the next piece, a ballad of his called "La Cancion de Sophia," where he first used the bow for emotional texture and then quickly playing his bass with rapid guitar riffs before resting on some heavy blues.

The show ended with "After The Cosmic Rain" with the trio coming together under some Latin touches that have always inspired Corea. Audience members were encouraged to clap briefly before adding their own vocal replications to the pianist's lead, not quite as versatile as a Bobby McFerrin, to the choice for the encore, "Spain."

Enthusiasts can only hope that jazz will continue to have an important place in future concert lineups. The first jazz night at least was one to remember.

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