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The Chick Corea Trilogy At The Flynn Center

Doug Collette By

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The Chick Corea Trilogy with Christian McBride and Brian Blade
The Flynn Center For The Performing Arts
Burlington, Vermont
October 15, 2019

The Chick Corea Trilogy may have played it safe on the Flynn Mainstage October 15th, but that didn't prevent frequent eruptions of robust applause from around the stately venue during the pair of sets or whoops and hollers, plus awed expressions of 'Wow!," at various points over the course of the nearly two-hour performance.

All of which acclamation was more rather than less deserved (and more's the pity it all took place before a less than sold-out crowd). Yet despite the fact pianist and titular leader, bassist Christian McBride and drummer Brian Blade didn't stretch themselves much with new and/or more challenging material than "In A Sentimental Mood," their emphasis throughout the night on such durable material as Duke Ellington's allowed the trio to not only exhibit impeccable taste in their choice of material, but also demonstrate how it's possible to sublimate prodigious technique in favor of well-honed group chemistry. In a very real sense, the music Corea, McBride and Blade played was the definition of jazz.

The brisk pace of the trio on the opener "Humpty Dumpty," seemed to take on a life of its own within just minutes of its beginning. Which only made "Summer Nights,"stand out in greater relief; notwithstanding the more contemplative nature of the latter tune, from Miles Davis' Seven Steps to Heaven (Columbia, 1963) practically indiscernible transitions from piano to bass to drums revealed how the threesome's knowledge of their respective instruments allowed them, individually and collectively, to find their instrumental level within the essential components of a composition, all in the spontaneity of the moment.

The Trilogy's familiarity with the songs they chose to play is comparable to their intimacy with their instruments. Each of the three men has the keen sense to ascertain then play the tones most directly aligned with his instrument, even as they are reacting to their bandmates. Thus, Corea delved into nuances of the melody with just the slight touches of rhythm befitting the piano as a percussion instrument, while McBride used his stand-up as a vehicle to find a more pronounced and deeply resonant middle ground between the two modes.

For his part, Blade as often as not played around the beats suggesting more than just timekeeping. Especially when it came to the pair of compositions by Thelonious Monk, "Crepuscule For Nellie" and even more so "Hackensack," he used sticks and brushes at various angles around his drums and cymbals to virtually diagram the internal rhythm of those unpredictable tunes. His explosive work on Bud Powell's "Tempus Fugit," in fact, belied the conventions to which he and his compatriots (mostly) adhered this cool autumn evening in the Green Mountains and foreshadowed a digression from the prevailing formality of the initial going: in the second fifty minute interval, as the rhythm section was more prominent than the man at the ivories.

Beginning with what Corea referred to as a 'mashup,' some abstract crescendos crystallized into the only staid moments of the night—perhaps not surprisingly on a piece of Italian composer Domenico Scarlatti's—before and after which Blade and McBride took great relish in their back and forth, generating as many grins between the two of them as no doubt appeared throughout this audience. Such smiles must've also proliferated when the pianist enacted his second round of call and response towards the end of the "'Round Midnight" encore: repeated from within tuning early in the evening, the gesture might've come across too cute for its own good had it not been right in line with the gaiety in the air at that point, immediately following a raucous call for more in a standing ovation.

While The Chick Corea Trilogy's performance of that might've been a bit restrained for its own good, the group was nonetheless playing for and directly to their audience, the result of which was a resonant connection—with the observers present and themselves—reminiscent of each player's previous visits to the Green Mountains. Hopefully this casual appearance was just precursor to more memorable ones in the future.
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