Jazz at Symphony Center
Symphony Center Presents Jazz
At Orchestra Hall
by Dan Zeff
Chicago –For more than 5 decades, Chic Corea has been there and done that on the jazz scene. Corea is a supreme pianist, a major composer, and a significant group leader. He is at home with straight ahead jazz, fusion, Spanish-tinged jazz, and frequently and profitably delves into a blend of classical music and jazz.
Corea brought his super trio Trilogy to Symphony Center Friday night, dazzling a huge and appreciative crowd with his musicianship and his genial personality. He was accompanied by two of the A list figures in jazz today, bassist Christian McBride and drummer Brian Blade. The name Trilogy comes from the extraordinary rapport the three have displayed since they joined together in 2014 to record a classic 3-CD album, labeled “Trilogy.”
The Friday night concert concentrated on Corea’s acoustic side, no electronics and almost no fusion. Corea served up delectable adaptations of music inspired by jazz titans like Duke Ellington, Bill Evans, Dave Brubeck, Wayne Shorter, and Thelonious Monk, as well as a sonata by 18th century Italian composer Domenico Scarlatti. Corea also played a couple of his own works, notably the rhythmically rich and melodic “A Spanish Song.”
Whatever the selection, Corea performed with unfailing creativity, reshaping familiar songs like Ellington’s “In a Sentimental Mood” and Monk’s “Crepescule with Nellie” into imaginative personal tributes to the originals. Throughout the evening, Corea played with a lightness of touch garnished by his fleet-fingered technique. Even at warp speed, his playing was always accessible, never showy. It was a hoot hearing how he converted the warhorse “In a Sentimental Mood” into a virtually fresh composition without usurping the piece’s underlying merits. But perhaps the highlight of the night was his interpretation of his own “A Spanish Song,” pulsating with Latin rhythms and swinging like crazy.
The group’s rhythm section ranks with the titantic duo of Gary Peacock on bass and Jack DeJohnette on drums that helped immortalize Keith Jarrett’s Standards trio. In Christian McBride, Corea is blessed with probably the best bassist in jazz since Ray Brown. McBride is an imposing physical presence who converts stunning solos at all tempos into expressive solos. Spectators who have sat through countless boring bass solos will be fascinated.
In that same spirit, Brian Blade’s percussion work is tastefully, swinging, and a treat to watch as the slender Blade whips from one drum to another (along with a small gong) to create a vibrant and even melodic set of solos. His most glorious contribution was a terrific set- ending piece called ”Fingerorints,” spun off from Wayne Shorter’s classic composition “Footprints.”
Corea had the audience in the palm of his hand throughout the evening, starting off by inviting the crowd to hum repetitions of brief passages he ticked off on the piano. It was clear sailing from then on, the customers applauding at every pause in the program.
By the end of the concert, my admiration for Corea had escalated off the charts. I knew him primarily from his fusion work with Return to Forever in the 1970’s and electronics not being my favorite jazz style, I was more in favor of piano acoustic stars like Brad Mehldau. But Friday night Corea put on a demonstration of jazz piano that touched all the bases in technique, taste, and swinging. At age 78, and counting, he’s at the artistic mountaintop in modern jazz.
The concert opened the 2019-2020 Symphony Center Presents jazz series. Next up on November 15 is the always anticipated appearance by Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. A second non series concert by the JLCO saluting the traditional and modern music of South Africa will be presented the next day. For information call 312 294 or visit cso.org.