|photo by Tore Saetre (c)|
I had the amazing luck to have seen Chick Corea five times, three times with Return to Forever, a dazzling and powerful jazz-fusion band fueled in major portions by Corea's protean skills as a composer. Let be known that it wasn't just Corea alone that drove RTF to fusion greatness, as the work of guitarists Bill Connors and Al DiMeola, bassist Stanley Clarke and drummer Lenny contributed in large measures to elevating brain-scrambling virtuosity to something highly, creatively musical. But it was Corea's vehicle overall, his compositions deftly bringing in the warring genres of classical, Latin-jazz, bop, blues, and progressive rock bombast into a coherent and cohesive whole.
There were hard time signatures and severely rapid changes in tone and attack. Still, Corea had a true composer's sense of pacing, structure, linking various moods and colors into contiguous wholes that continually and (seemingly) organically morph into new shapes. There was a sense of the storyteller, the saga, the musical journey in his finest work in RTF, and his ceaseless solo albums and projects. I was additionally blessed to see Corea as well in two other contexts, one in which he shared the stage with fellow Miles Davis keyboardist Herbie Hancock for an evening of inspired duets, and with the Chick Corea Acoustic Trio at the now-gone Elario's in LaJolla, two experiences that impressed for no other reason than that I haven't witnessed a better improviser at the piano.
As you might expect, his long career has seen him take many fruitful and some not-so-fruitful turns, and that his body of work is simply too massive to comment on cogently here. But let us remember that Corea was firmly wedded to the jazz tradition. His mastery of the instrument was absolute; his attack was crisp, fiery, elegant, resonating, endlessly inventive. However, his Avant guard bona fides with Anthony Braxton and Woody Shaw, or his eventual crossover appeal to rock and pop audiences. Some time ago, he recorded a tribute album to the late pianist and protean composer Bud Powell with a select group of young jazz Turks. It is a wonderful tribute and will end with a post of my review. Take off your hat, bow your head, and have a good thought; we have lost a great artist.