|A little older and heftier, and still the greatest duo in jazz.|
“Glad you came back,” Chick Corea said to a packed house after intermission last night. “That’s good.”
It was more than good. It was great, a rare and fine evening with two superb jazz musicians and students of the genre who gave not only an outstanding performance, but a history lesson of sorts. The predominantly Czech crowd may not have understood or fully appreciated tributes to the likes of Dave Brubeck and Bud Powell, but they were not about to miss a single note of a dazzling concert.
As noted on this website last week, Chick Corea and Gary Burton have been making amazing music together for nearly 40 years. When they’re onstage, it looks and sounds like it. They rarely glance at each other during songs, except to finish together – and that’s only on the new pieces. Otherwise, they run through complex arrangements of originals and covers with a seamless interplay of chromatic melody lines, fills, accents and playful improv like two parts of the same well-oiled music machine.
They warmed up with two Corea compositions from their repertoire, Love Castle and Alegria. The former was a showcase for all the tempo changes, shifting leads and solo breaks they can pack into a single song, and the latter a surprisingly intricate rhythm exercise, with the duo tapping out the underlying rhythm on the piano body before launching into the song.
Then it was a dip into jazz history, starting with Kay Swift and Paul James’ “Can’t We Be Friends?”, recorded by Art Tatum, among many others. Though the song was written in 1929, it sounded totally fresh in the new arrangement, with Corea taking the lead and Burton providing sparkling accompaniment and highlights. Before continuing the tour, they had fun with some personal favorites: Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Chega de Saudade,” which both men learned playing with Stan Getz; an uptempo, very smart jazz arrangement of the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby;” and a new Corea composition, “Mozart Goes Dancing,” a bright take on some familiar Mozart chords.
The second half opened with “Bud Powell,” a Corea tribute to the bop legend on which Burton took the lead, playing with a speed and fluency that has to be seen to be believed. Burton’s four-mallet technique and touch on the bars is so distinctive, you could walk into a concert hall blindfolded and know immediately that it’s him playing. Corea is the craftsman, with a seemingly endless supply of riffs and harmonic ideas that came to the fore in the next piece, “Brasilia.” (“My all-time favorite Chick composition,” Burton told the audience.)
Next, “Light Blue” offered a very effective synthesis of Thelonius Monk’s sound and the Corea/Burton style, and “Strange Meadow Lark” dusted off and freshened one of the enduring cuts from Dave Brubeck’s seminal Time Out album. Dizzy Gillespie’s “Hot House” (actually written by Tadd Dameron, Corea noted) gave the duo a chance to trade improv lines, with Corea looking a bit surprised (pleasantly) by what Burton came up with.
The two players closed with a rousing, dramatic rendition of Corea’s “La Fiesta” that made the version on their last release together, The New Crystal Silence, sound sleepy. After an extended improv opening, they ran through a couple blistering versions of the main themes before Burton stepped back to give his partner an extended solo that took some deliciously dark turns, with Corea reaching in to pluck the piano strings. Extended applause brought them back for an encore – appropriately, a relatively straight-ahead version of “Blue Monk.”
For jazz aficionados, it capped a refreshing night of standards and favorites enlivened by new arrangements and virtuoso playing. Judging by the applause, the rest of the audience fell under Corea and Burton’s spell as well, thrilled by some very sophisticated yet highly accessible music.
For links and an interview with Gary Burton, see the story below.