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Chick Corea: Solo Piano: Improvisations/Children’s Songs

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Chick Corea was a busy man in the early ’70s. In addition to his work with Miles Davis’ electric band, he created two of the three discs in this crystalline yet sturdy box. Piano ImprovisationsChildren’s Songs in 1983. All feature Corea’s touch, paradoxically delicate and percussive, as well as his gift for melody. And all deliver a wry, provocative romanticism that is one of Corea’s trademarks. The first two discs consist of spontaneous studio improvisations, “answers,” Corea says in his insightful liner notes, to “Life’s questions.” The third comprises compositions designed to be “portraits” of children whose sense of wonder and playfulness inspired him.

To give this perspective, it’s instructive to listen to the blazing electric take of Wayne Shorter’s “Masqualero” that Corea helped deliver in 1970. It surfaces on Black Beauty, a live Davis recording from the Fillmore West featuring Corea on Fender Rhodes. (Originally released in Japan in 1973, the album was reissued on double-CD by Columbia in 1997.)

Like the version on disc two of this box, it’s serpentine and busy. Unlike it, however, it’s also hard-rocking, glassy and smeared. The solo version is just as complex and confoundingly technical, but far more interior. In addition to exemplifying Corea’s interpretive prowess, it’s peppery, and its strut and coil make it a marvel of poise and power. You can see why Corea was prized for his adaptability, prodigious technique and biting yet delicate attack. You can hear why this music commands as much attention now as it did the year it came out, an anomaly among such landmark recordings as Weather Report’s debut and the Mahavishnu Orchestra’s The Inner Mounting Flame.

The CDs in this characteristically austere, elegantly presented box work beautifully together, showcasing Corea’s startling technique, an approach that sheathes the hammer in the feather, and a vivid, darting melodic sense. One highlight of the first disc is “Sometime Ago,” the longest track and one that presaged Corea’s groundbreaking fusion work in Return to Forever. It evokes his Sicilian and Spanish heritage, it’s strangely and strongly evocative, and it’s a study-by no means academic-in dynamics.

Much of disc one is devoted to “Where Are You Now?,” a “suite of eight pictures” that, like the predominantly shorter tone poems on disc three, conjure mental landscapes akin to those by similarly pictorial French composers Erik Satie and Maurice Ravel. (For sheer technical bravura, have fun absorbing the fourth installment of “Where Are You Now?” How Corea can play so fast yet so clearly is a mystery.) Disc two also contains that take on Shorter’s “Masqualero” and a Cubist, itchy rendition of Thelonious Monk’s witty “Trinkle Tinkle.” (These are the box’s sole covers.) For turbulence, try “Departure From Planet Earth”; for a courtly walk in the park, try “Song for Lee Lee.”

The third disc may be even more impressionistic. Even though it contains the Gypsy-flavored “Addendum,” a leisurely, sweetly introspective piece featuring Corea in deep empathy with violinist Ida Kavafian and cellist Fred Sherry (they combine for tweedy, autumnal texture), its key qualities are playfulness and brevity. This tastefully crafted box of intimate piano music, thoughtfully and contextually annotated by Neil Tesser, is a singular blend of authority and memorably poetic license

Originally Published