After half a century as a preeminent jazz composer and musician, 73-year-old keyboardist Chick Corea is in a rare place as an artist who can release practically whatever he wants. In recent years, his incredibly prolific output has included everything from solo-piano outings to duos to sets by reshuffled iterations of Return to Forever. Even the releases themselves, like this three-CD live collection clocking in at nearly three and a half hours, are bursting with material. Overkill? Perhaps. But fortunately Corea’s band here features bassist Christian McBride and drummer Brian Blade, forming a trio worthy of comparison to Corea’s great acoustic threesomes from Miroslav Vitous and Roy Haynes to Eddie Gomez and Paul Motian.
Five years ago, McBride played electric bass and Blade subbed for Vinnie Colaiuta on tour in Corea’s Five Peace Band, co-led with guitarist John McLaughlin and also featuring saxophonist Kenny Garrett. So the chemistry within this trio is evident from the outset. Corea’s opening composition, “You’re My Everything,” immediately spotlights the interactive ears of the swinging Blade, who answers the pianist’s phrases with both drumsticks and brushes as McBride provides the glue with accents and walking lines.
Corea then covers four pieces: Joe Henderson’s “Recorda Me,” Thelonious Monk’s whimsical “Work” and delightful new reads of “The Song Is You” and “My Foolish Heart,” the lattermost captured in Madrid with Spanish guest stars Niño Josele (guitar) and Jorge Pardo (flute). They both return for a barnburning 18-minute version of Corea’s “Spain.
The recording sites are as wide-ranging as the songwriting credits, from Washington, D.C., and Oakland, Calif., to Switzerland, Austria, Slovenia, Turkey and Japan. Disc two intersperses American Songbook material (“Alice in Wonderland,” “It Could Happen to You,” “How Deep Is the Ocean”) with another rousing Monk number (“Blue Monk”), Corea’s lone original, “Armando’s Rhumba,” and a couple of surprises. Kurt Weill’s “This Is New” is a highlight thanks to Corea’s exquisite touch, McBride’s take-no-prisoners break and Blade’s melodic approach. And Scriabin could never have imagined this trio’s take on his “Op. 11, No. 9,” a democratic call-and-response showcase for all three musicians.
Disc three closes with something old after two very long pieces of something new. Corea’s “Homage” is dedicated to the late flamenco guitar genius Paco de Lucía, and the pianist captures his essence through a darting unaccompanied intro and sections ranging from somber to spirited. And Corea’s previously unrecorded “Piano Sonata: The Moon,” clocking in at a half-hour, is a shell-game of written and improvised sections filled with starts and stops, crescendos and space. Its impeccable follow-up is the chestnut “Someday My Prince Will Come,” sung by Corea’s wife, Gayle Moran, which causes the crowd in Sapporo, Japan, to erupt. The couple starts the tune as a duet before McBride and Blade enter, playfully accenting Corea’s subtleties before Moran sustains a 22-second upper-register note to close (she was, some may forget, a vocalist and keyboardist for both Return to Forever and the Mahavishnu Orchestra in the 1970s).
This expansive three-CD set offers a lot to digest, and may even come across as self-indulgent on paper. Then again, chances are that nearly every listener at these concerts left the venue wanting more. With Trilogy, they don’t have to.