Five Peace Band
March 25, 2009
The reunion of Chick Corea and John McLaughlin—together for the first substantial time since their days with Miles Davis recording In a Silent Way(Columbia, 1969) and Bitches Brew—may be the most obvious feature of their new collaboration, Five Peace Band; but anyone hoping for a throwback would be disappointed. Corea and McLaughlin have been around the musical world dozens of times since those days, growing into influential elder statesmen, and the rest of the band members—Kenny Garrett, Christian McBride, and Vinnie Colaiuta—bring their own unique experiences that push the music in different directions.
Five Peace Band's music recalls some elements of Corea's Return to Forever
and McLaughlin's Mahavishnu Orchestra
, but there's a lot more at work: world music, blues, and bebop all play a role. Most of all, it's simply a pleasure listening to five top-flight musicians playing at the highest level of technical ability with intensity, hope and, above all, joy.
Alto saxophonist Kenny Garrett, another Miles alum, has worked in a smorgasbord of idioms, mainly as a leader in recent years. Bassist Christian McBride has worked primarily in jazz, but he's no stranger to funk, fusion, pop and classical music. Drummer Vinnie Colaiuta has spent much of his time on the rock side of the fusion divide, working with musicians such as Frank Zappa, Jeff Beck, Sting and Joni Mitchell. But he's also proved his jazz credentials with folks like Herbie Hancock, the Buddy Rich Big Band and Quincy Jones.
With this crew of masterful instrumentalists, intricate, complex and rapid playing is expected. They delivered in all of those departments, but their playing was also highly musical—an aspect that sets them apart from other skilled players that may strive only to set new land-speed records.
The opener, "Raju," written by McLaughlin, was a case in point. Somewhat similar to Return to Forever's "Romantic Warrior" with a little faster tempo, the theme was nicely melodic with the sax, guitar, and keys playing microbursts of virtuosic intensity while leaving plenty of room for exploratory solos.
Another McLaughlin tune, "Old Blues, New Bruise," provided some of the most emotional soloing of the evening, mainly from Garrett. That tune had some similarities to a traditional blues tune, and the band performed it in a slow 3/4 tempo, making Garrett's anguished, searching cries all the more poignant.
Corea's "Hymn for Andromeda" was a real highlight—a mini symphony with several different movements, starting slow and building to a climax. Toward the end, the band hit a one chord groove and Garrett stepped out with a frantic solo that threatened to transport the audience to another galaxy.
For the encore, Corea and McLaughlin got back to the roots of their association with "In a Silent Way/It's About That Time." They've been playing that for most of their shows on this tour. The Denver rendition was somewhat abridged—only about 10 minutes, compared to the 20 minute version on their live album. "In A Silent Way/It's About That Time" is such a classic, though, that a shortened version was absolutely better than missing it altogether.
Despite the flash of the playing, the musicians were fairly restrained in their choice of instruments. McLaughlin stuck to a single guitar all night. Corea played a grand piano, a Yamaha electric piano and a synthesizer. Garrett stayed with the same alto sax for the entire show. McBride switched between an acoustic bass and a five-string electric. Even Colaiuta had a relatively stripped down drum kit: bass, snare, three toms, trap cymbal and a half dozen other cymbals.
Corea spent much of the evening on the acoustic piano, especially for his extended introductions to songs like "The Disguise" and "Hymn for Andromeda." Of course, working in somewhat of a fusion mode, he also turned his attention to the electric piano and laid down several synthesized solos that could have jumped right off a Return to Forever record.
McLaughlin is a master of casual intensity. About a year ago, Corea came through Denver with the Return to Forever reunion featuring Al Di Meola on guitar. When Di Meola plays, his fingers are separated much of the time, giving them the look of a spider frantically jumping around the fret board. When McLaughlin plays, the fingers on his left hand general stay close together. The visual effect is of someone simply drumming his fingers on a table as multiple cubic yards of notes magically fly out of the guitar.
Maybe it's just the nature of the horn, but Garrett seemed to consistently wring the most emotion from his instrument. Having the only single note (at a time) instrument in the band, Garrett sat out except during the arranged parts of the songs and during solos. But when he did play, he grabbed the complete attention of the audience and his fellow band members.
McBride and Colaiuta were not just beat-keepers, they established an underlying intensity throughout the show. McBride's typical accompaniment was more complex than most bass solos. When he did solo, he displayed a sense of melody not often heard from his instrument. Colaiuta seemed to be an entire percussion section all on his own. He consistently pounded out intricate polyrhythms over, under and around the whole band.
This is a band that was not just going through the motions. They came to play. Their first set went for about an hour. After a short intermission, they came back and played for another 90 minutes. Between the intensity and the endurance, it was a real display of chops. I loved it. What can I say? Too many more concerts like this and I'll have to write Confessions of a Chopaholic.