Chick Corea Akoustic Band LIVE
We are still mourning the sudden, unexpected passing of Chick Corea earlier this year and his smiling face that adorns the cover and photos within, not to mention his spirited playing, deeply reminds us how much we miss him. However, not surprisingly there is Corea music left in the vaults that we will likely be hearing for years to come. Sound engineer Bernie Kirsch, who again has the honors here, has been with Corea since the mid-70s. This posthumous release is his reunion twenty plus years later, in 2018, of his renowned Akoustic Band, featuring drummer Dave Weckl and bassist John Patitucci in Chick Corea Akoustic Band LIVE.
Before going much further, having met Corea two years ago, this writer was so impressed with his approachable, playful, friendly, and down-to-earth demeanor that it only seems fitting to begin with his last statement to his fans – “I want to thank all of those along my journey who have helped keep the music fires burning bright. It is my hope that those who have an inkling to play, write, perform or otherwise, do so. If not four yourself then for the rest of us. It’s not only that the world needs more artists, it’s also just a lot of fun.”
This double CD set was recorded January 13, 2018, at SPC Music Hall in St. Petersburg, FL, 19 years after the trio’s 1987 recording debut Summer Night Live, which documented a concert in Belgrade, Yugoslavia. Corea fans know that the Akoustic Band was a natural outgrowth of the better known Elektric Band, with the same members. The latter band remained active in the ‘90s, earned a Grammy Award (one of 23 that Corea earned) for their 1989 self-titled debut but then went dark. Nonetheless, their bond, which began in 1983 when his trio mates were both 25 years old and almost 20 years younger than Corea, has always remained strong.
Disc One begins with one from the Akoustic Band songbook, Corea’s “Morning Sprite” from that same debut album. It’s classic Corea, full of twists and unexpected quirky turns that only the best could adroitly traverse. “Japanese Waltz” is graceful and elegant but closer listens reveal a playful Corea at work too. The standard “That Old Feeling” as the musical exchanges evoke a reunion of sorts with the three engaged in convivial discussion. Already at three tunes in, we are impressed with Patitucci’s lyrical, richly toned plucking but struck even more by Weckl’s playing here and throughout. The drummer is regarded as one of the most powerful in jazz-rock fusion so it’s revealing to hear his restraint in this acoustic format. Weckl comments (from the liners) – “The Akoustic trio setting is probably the most challenging for the drum chair. It certainly is for me, to be able to support the music with the necessary energy while not playing too loud, possibly making it difficult for the others to relax and play. I love this challenge, as it gets me thinking about how the instrument voices can be chosen, set up, tuned, and of course played.”
Indicative of that quote is the graceful, reverent approach to Ellington’s “In a Sentimental Mood” which quietly sets the stage for the Disc One highlight, “Rhumba Flamenco,” nodding to Corea’s love of Spanish music. The piece runs for 14 minutes, capturing breathtaking solos and exchanges from all three. Patitucci takes the eloquent intro to another Akoustic Band favorite, Al Dubin and Harry Warren’s “Summer Night,” rendered here as an effervescent waltz. The disc closes with “Humpty Dumpty,” originally recorded by Corea on 1978’s Alice in Wonderland-themed album The Mad Hatter and by the Akoustic Band on 1991’s Alive. This one reveals the trio at their rollicking, unrestrained best but the version on Disc Two even goes beyond, especially with Corea’s solo intro where he thunders the strings inside the piano. Having two versions also accentuates how inventive the trio can be. It calls to mind this Corea statement (from the liners) – “I grew up in a tradition of play-now-first-takes. The idea of playing a piece over and over until it’s ‘just right’ was never part of my makeup. I always experienced the 1st take as the magic one. It may have had a few missed notes, but it always had that tingle that makes performance exciting…Well, I threw some new arrangements together and revisited some of the things we played in the past, rehearsed for a few hours so we could end together- then threw down at the gig. OK, a few missed notes, but we got the Tingle -so I’m really pleased.”
Disc Two begins with Corea alone for “On Green Dolphin Street,” delivering his signature variations on the standard. “Eternal Child,” from the Elektric Band’s 1988 Eye of the Beholder, follows with Patitucci’s bowed bass solo setting an aching tone that Corea and Weckl support in the emotive ballad. “You and the Night and the Music” is another standout turn from Weckl who drives a surging tempo with his rim shots and snare work. Few live Corea shows are without a Monk tune, and he obliges here with a thoughtful, explorative reading of “Monk’s Mood.” As a special treat we hear the pianist’s wife, vocalist Gayle Moran Corea, for the demanding ballad “You’re Everything,” originally performed by Flora Purim with the original Return To Forever on 1973’s Light As a Feather. Gayle’s soprano soars to lofty heights and eventually closes in a stunning climax. As is typical in Corea’s live shows, one hears not only gracious applause but deeply respectful admiration in the audience response.
While this release reminds us of the spirit and playfulness of Corea’s live shows and the stellar shared interplay of his bandmates, we still can’t help but choke up a bit, realizing we cannot witness such shows again first-hand. Nonetheless the legend’s music invariably still brings smiles and somehow, we know more live shows and maybe “lost tapes” will emerge in the future. Corea was on tour in Europe with another of his favorite trios – Christian McBride and Brian Blade – when the pandemic hit. Don’t be surprised to see Concord tap into that tour and don’t be surprised to see Corea’s name again at the next Grammy ceremony via this recording.
- Jim Hynes