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My Money is on Champions

Published May 2, 2007 at 5:21 p.m.


I have to say there isn't a single show for which I'm more excited than the Chick Corea and Bela Fleck duet.  As a jazz pianist, Chick has been a favorite of mine for a while, and I've seen him live twice, once with the Akoustic Band (John Pattituci and Dave Weckl) and the other time performing at Newport with Roy Haynes, Christian McBride, Gary Burton, Joshua Redman, and surprise guest (this could only happen at Newport) Pat Metheny, for an 80th birthday celebration for Haynes.  As great as that group was, I'd have to say the superior Corea performance was the former, because I actually believe having Chick in creative control of a project is (usually) a good thing, and I don't think that's the reason for the "cheese factor" in some of his work (which I will admit is there).  What I find cheesy in Corea's discography has more to do with electric instruments and synthesizers, and historical context, than it does with being in charge.  The Return to Forever albums that I've heard sound dated mostly because of the sonic palette, with primitive synths and the general trend to want to use them all.  I don't think Chick Corea was the most adept at making good creative use out of the new technology of the time (that honor goes to Joe Zawinul, and Herbie Hancock to a lesser extent) so the sound of the music suffers.  But this isn't about Chick's creative conception or composition. Case in point, the tune "Senor Mouse" is featured both on Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy and on Crystal Silence, the former being with Return to Forever, electrified, and the latter in duet with Gary Burton, totally acoustic.  In my mind there is no comparison; the latter version is far superior and does not suffer at all from the cheese factor of the former.  There is a certain lightness to Corea's playing that becomes a little TOO light when he's playing rhodes or a synthesizer, but on piano it's perfect.

I have faith in this concert because, even though I'm not as familiar with Bela Fleck, I'm confident in Chick Corea's ability to perform well in an acoustic duet.  He recorded a series of DVDs a few years ago at the Blue Note in New York City with different bands and collaborations (all acoustic) and some of my favorite concerts in the set are the duets with Gonzalo Rubalacaba, Gary Burton, and Bobby McFerrin (incidentally Bela Fleck is featured on that DVD, sitting in on "Spain").  On top of that, there is an album Chick made in 1978, at the height of his electric cheese craze, in duet with Herbie Hancock, and it floors me every time I hear it.  Something about the intimacy of duets bring out the best and most creative in Chick Corea, as he strives not to assert his own ego but rather to compliment the other musician, and I'm really hoping something similar happens in this concert.  The key is going to be a large amount of interaction, rather than one of them merely accompanying the other...

Just a last thought.  I don't generally consider Chick Corea exclusively a "fusion" artist, and I don't think this will be a "fusion" concert.  A lot of Corea's most important work is acoustic and, while not necessarily mainstream, it doesn't fit into most people's preconceived notions of fusion.  I'd settle on calling it "jazz" or even just "music."