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Chick Corea: Origin

Robert Spencer By

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In the early Seventies, Chick Corea played in Circle with Anthony Braxton, Dave Holland and Barry Altschul. Braxton, of course, was moving fast toward musical experimentation; Corea, in the grip of Scientology, wanted to go in a more commercial direction. Twenty-five years later, Braxton is a grand old man of the avant-garde, and Chick Corea is a very rich man. But on this disc Corea puts aside the electric keyboards and pop / funk stuff for a sharp jazz set at the Blue Note that hints, here and there, of the pianist's adventurous past. In the liner notes, he says that he wrote several tracks years ago, but they never had a "performance home" until now. So Origin may indeed refer to Corea looking back to his wild youth.

On the opening "Say It Again," trombonist Steve Davis and two reedmen, Bob Sheppard and Steve Wilson, go all over the place before the piano man brings them together. Wilson's alto solos are not as crisp or mercurial as Braxton's, but he dances on the edge in "Double Image." Davis doesn't sound as razor-sharp as J. J. Johnson or his ilk – he brings Grachan Moncur III to mind – but he contributes some heat of his own, and Sheppard is unafraid to venture into multiphonics (after scorching the changes) on tenor. According to Corea, "Double Image" sometimes lasts the whole set (it is only seventeen and a half minutes long on this disc), and it is a rouser. Everyone solos: Avishai Cohen on bass, strumming guitarishly, Adam Cruz on drums, and Corea, dreamily.

Corea pops into "Dreamless" as if he's still on those keyboards, a vibe-like hint in his playing. The ensemble is tight, but the harmonies are again piquant. Sheppard on bass clarinet consistently draws the listener’s ear. Wilson is on a fluent soprano here. "Molecules" begins with another unaccompanied Corea introduction. His playing is as masterful as ever, but he deserves special mention for this arrangement, which tips the hat to Ellington with a skillful deployment of the kind of parts-writing Duke made look easy. And again, that bass clarinet stays in your mind.

Rounding out the disc are the pretty waltz "Soul Mates" and an arrangement of Burke and Van Heusen's "It Could Happen to You." It could happen that Chick Corea could lapse back into pallid pop writing, but this is a genuinely surprising, brilliantly played, and consistently rewarding disc.


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