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Chick Corea: Portraits

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Jelly Roll Morton had his “Finger Breaker,” and so in the same pianistic spirit this two-disc Chick Corea set might as well be subtitled “Genre Buster.” Solo piano recitals are as close as jazz gets to classical music, but Corea has an entirely new slant on those less-than-common proceedings: treat a series of gigs as informal living-room theater, play some cuts, offer up some tributes, share some anecdotes, cast a number of musical impressions, traffic in deadpan wit and assemble a collegial two-hour history-cum-travelogue that makes high art feel downright cozy.

Bill Evans, Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell and Stevie Wonder are among Corea’s “sitters,” if you will, but rather than provide mere homage, Corea finds new freedoms-of spirit-in the work of each man, which is, of course, the purpose of that pioneering work in the first place. The Monk offering finds Corea teasing out the good-humored wit Monk favored even in what we might regard as his night pieces, and there’s also something delightfully curatorial afoot, the notion that in infusing these sonic canvases with new color, a master is revitilizing other masters as others will hopefully do for him.

There’s a Pictures at an Exhibition vibe, with Corea sheperding patrons about, but who knew the dude had so much Bob Newhart in him? He’s funny, and that readies the at-home listener for the music that appears more academic on the second disc-portraits of Bartók and Scriabin-before arriving at nine original songs for children and a series of “Portraits”: improvised pieces based on conversations with members of his audience. That the classical ventures dovetail so nicely with the material that’s putatively for grammar school kids provides an enlightening point: a capacity for wonder serves one equally well as a classical master, a pre-teen, a middle-aged listener or a jazz genre-buster whose work doesn’t break for parameters.

Originally Published