If there is anything more ambitious than curating an extensive, comprehensive collection covering the history of an artist, it is collating selected works which vividly outline a particular timeline or theme. Chick Corea's The Montreux Years is a fine example of the latter; this seventh edition in the archive series devoted to the iconic festival not only reflects the late composer and pianist's technical skills, but also his eclectic stylistic tastes. And that is not to mention his fondness for collaborations in all manner of settings.
Eight cuts from six performances, with a running time of about seventy-four minutes, somewhat belies the twelve year chronology of The Montreaux Years. The late esteemed musician first appeared at the iconic festival in 1972, then almost two dozen times thereafter, an extended sequence of events which lent itself to exactly the kind of rotating presentations of which this set is a microcosm.
Corea's inimitable combination of formality and playfulness is potent throughout. And it is not just readily on the Akoustic Band's "Quartet #2 (Pt. 1)," but also (literally) at the opposite end of the musical spectrum on "Interlude;" unfortunately, this overlong audience call-and-response, in the company of the Elektric Band, illustrates the man's penchant for crowd-pleasing as an end in itself. As throughout this CD, on "America (Continents Pt.4)" the sound of the recording has all the realism of the room in which the musicians are playing, no doubt due to the MOA process used in the restoration and mastering of the audio by Tony Cousins.
That latter cut is the closest this anthology gets to a solo piano piece here but, fortunately, a snippet of the man alone at the ivories at the outset of "Dignity" mitigates the absence of such a track. On this dedication to the author's mother, the invigorating interplay with drummer Jeff Ballard and bassist Avishai Cohen balances the tranquility of the leader's interval, while saxophonist Bob Berg's high-flying interlude during the final track, just over fourteen minutes of "New Waltz," also makes for a fittingly rousing close.
The liner notes for The Montreaux Years could have been better conceived and executed to more fully align with the music to which they are devoted. Rather than filling many of the fourteen pages inside the hardbound covers with sentimental reminiscences, more pertinent details about the respective timelines of the groups that appear in the set (and perhaps even some discographical info) would accurately place the ensembles within the chronology of Corea's career; such scholarly information would have been more in line with the borderline deluxe design of the package with its 3D lettering on the outer front cover alongside Joe Weghon's colorful art (which also appears on the compact disc itself).
Fortunately, such academic criticism becomes moot when listening to the likes of the easy-going shuffle of The Freedom Band's take on "Bud Powell," especially as it so dramatically contrasts the New Trio's rollicking opening of "Fingerprints." The Montreux Years is a suitably celebratory historical homage to one of the most iconic jazz musicians of our time.
Fingerprints; Bud Powell; Quartet No. 2 (Pt. 1); Interlude; Who’s Inside the Piano;
Dignity; America (Continents Pt. 4); New Waltz.
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