I first heard Chick Corea sometime around 1971. I remember buying A.R.C., Paris-Concert, Crystal Silence, Light as a Feather (the acoustic version), and Piano Improvisations, Volumes 1 & 2. Then I went back to his earlier albums, including Inner Space, and Now He Sings, Now He Sobs. One of my early favorites was and continues to be Sweet Rain, which is actually a Stan Getz session. Of course, I eventually realized that Corea played on some important Miles albums, including Bitches Brew and In a Silent Way. It is important to read liner notes.
Corea was very important to me when I was in high school. He was one of the first of a succession of favorite pianists. I even wrote him a letter, asking about Scientology. I figured it must be worth exploring if he was a practitioner. I remember receiving a hand-typed letter from him on red Return to Forever stationary with whiteout over the typos. It was obvious that he had typed it. I still have it after all these years.
I can’t say I can always identify Corea in a blindfold test, nor do I have the musical vocabulary to describe what he does. Yet, Corea has an identifiable sound. It is the way he blocks three or four notes together. It sometimes sounds like it is headed in a Latin direction, but it usually doesn’t take that turn. Those notes always wrap around the bass line, climbing the strings.
Tonight at the Blue Note in New York City I heard him play those patterns again, some forty-seven years after I first heard him. Corea was starting a five-night stand at that venerable Village club. I first saw the late Bobby Hutcherson there when I was in graduate school in 1982 at NYU.
Corea was working in a trio format tonight, with Marcus Gilmore on drums and Carlitos del Puerto on bass. Over the course of a roughly 75-minute set, Corea played an Irving Berlin standard, then paid homage to Bill Evans with Alice in Wonderland. It was then time for some Duke Ellington (In a Sentimental Mood), followed by Zyriab, a tune Corea recorded with Paco De Lucia in Madrid. Corea closed the set with Fingerprints, which is his response to Miles Davis’ Footprints.
Even though he was the name that brought the crowd through the front door, Corea did not dominate the evening. It was Carlitos del Puerto who received the most time in solo mode. At times, Corea just sat back, watching del Puerto solo or interact with Gilmore. Fortunately, Corea is not unassuming. He had his share of solo bits, and he certainly engaged in some extended musical conversations with del Puerto, both smiling as the notes danced intertwined above the audience.
I will say one thing: Corea is the opposite of Keith Jarrett when it comes to audience interaction. After each number, Corea identifies the song, offers some background about it, and then jokes with the audience. Tonight, he went into a digression about polymaths. One audience member claimed that the guy sitting with him was one, but then decided the guy was not one after Corea defined the term. Jarrett, on the other hand, rarely acknowledges the audience.
Normally I would have bought tickets for the second set, but I have an early flight tomorrow, so no go tonight. It certainly was nice to reacquant myself with Corea in a live setting.
[Click on an image to enlarge it]
Chick Corea Looks Up in Wonderment at Carlitos del Puerto on Bass
Chick Corea at the Piano
Massive Finger Joints
Photographer’s Notes: I did not take many photographs tonight. The Blue Note permits photography, but it is not conducive to it. I was seated about 15 feet from the piano, with about a one-to-two foot opening between the heads at the two tables (the one I was seated at and the one to my left), but I had a direct line of sight. As should be apparent, I used a long lens to crop the heads out.
When I am in a club, particularly one not on home turf, I am sensitive to the audience. I do not want to interfere with their enjoyment of the music. Because the entire wall opposite the stage is lined with tables, if I stood anywhere in the narrow aisle, I would be blocking views. Mid-set, I headed to the men’s room with camera in hand. As I headed back down the stairs to the main floor, I composed the horizontal shot in my mind, set the exposure, and then headed back to my seat. At my predetermined spot, I stopped, crouched, focused, and took one shot before heading back to my seat. I was standing for no more than 15 seconds. The exposure is uneven, but that is due to the lighting in the club—I suppose I could have used a graduated neutral density filter. Not much I can do about that. The shot, however, is perfectly composed and in focus. You do what you can do.