05/21/13

Concert Review: Chick Corea and Jazz @ Lincoln Center Orch.

JALC's Chick Corea Festival welcomes its namesake

One of the most versatile artists in the history of jazz, Chick Corea has performed music from his expansive songbook in an impressive assortment of musical circumstances—acoustic and electric, solo and duo, with small ensembles and symphony orchestras—yet the one situation in which he has rarely been heard is with a jazz big band; somewhat surprising considering that the world renowned pianist considers himself as much a composer as player. But since January 2011, when the NEA Jazz Master appeared at New York’s Rose Hall as guest pianist performing with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, he and Wynton Marsalis have forged a mutual admiration society that has been fortified through various encounters by the two road warriors on intersecting world tours.

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Frank Stewart

Chick Corea with Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra

The May 16th reunion of Corea with the orchestra and its leader marked the first of three concerts in conjunction with Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Chick Corea Festival, which also featured two Allen Room concerts presenting a pair young Corea apprentices, the Israeli Gadi Lehavi and Georgian Beka Gochiashvili, and a week of shows at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola featuring four of his favorite pianists: Edsel Gomez, Elio Villafranca, Marcus Roberts and Alfredo Gonzalez, as well as drummer Henry Cole.

The centerpiece of the festival, the Rose Hall concerts were a reprise of the 2011 first encounter, revisiting the 10 pieces penned by the pianist, nine of which were arranged by seven different orchestra members and one by the composer himself. The evening opened reaching back into the Corea songbook with one his earliest pieces, the half-century-old “Windows.” Arranged by Ted Nash, the orchestration began with a classically-tinged prelude that featured special guest Riza Printup on harp and the band’s saxophone section doubling on clarinets and flutes, before opening up full throttle to a powerful big band swing that had the orchestra blowing hard over Corea’s hip chords. That set up his fluid solo and continued as he offered clever responses to the buoyant lines of Nash’s solo and then gently faded out accompanied by only harp.

The set continued with another ’60s Corea classic, “Matrix,” from Now He Sings, Now He Sobs. Trombonist Vincent Gardner’s arrangement opened with a wild cacophonous segment featuring battling reed and brass sections before Corea entered, played the well-known melody and then soloed straight ahead over Carlos Enriquez’s tempo-shifting walking bass. Sherman Irby’s Bird/Dolphy-inspired solo was followed by a broad-toned bass interlude that introduced an explosive interaction between Corea and drummer Ali Jackson that ushered the piece out to its low, brass-heavy conclusion.

Marcus Printup’s arrangement of “Crystal Silence,” popular from the ECM album that debuted Corea’s enduring partnership with vibraphonist Gary Burton. opened with the trumpeter’s clarion tone sounding the melody over the deliberate orchestral background. Marsalis was augmented by Riza Printup’s harp, providing a soft underpinning to the composer’s emotional piano solo, joining together again to bring the piece to a delicate finish. Marsalis’ introduction his own arrangement of Corea’s “Children Song No. 10” was made all the more poignant by his announcement of the presence in the audience of one of the world’s great philanthropists, Sheika Moza bint Nasser of Qatar, founder of the worldwide Educate a Child initiative.

The set concluded with what was surprisingly only the second big band arrangement by Corea. The excerpt from his suite From Forever (a suite for big band dedicated to Boston band leader Herb Pomeroy) brought the composer center stage to conduct the orchestra as the band’s regular pianist Dan Nimmer filled in at the Steinway, later joining him in a series of alternating eight bar call-and-response statements. It concluded in an exciting four-handed exposition that built to an exciting climax, followed by some stratospheric pyrotechnical trumpeting and a dynamic soprano outing by Victor Goines.

The concert’s second half, beginning with guest vocalist Gayle Moran Corea singing the Return To Forever classic “You’re Everything,” and ending with arrangements of “Tones for Joan’s Bones,” “Wigwam” and “Straight Up and Down,” by Ted Nash, Ali Jackson and Sherman Irby, displayed a similar simpatico between Corea, Marsalis and the orchestra, one that can be expected to continue and grow into the future.

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