Five Peace Band | 04.28.09 | Montreal

Words by: Kevin Schwartzbach | Images by: Matthew Park

Five Peace Band :: 04.28.09 :: Place des Arts :: Montreal, Quebec

Five Peace Band :: 04.28 :: Montreal
In late 1969 the world of jazz was turned on its ear upon the release of Miles Davis' revolutionary album In A Silent Way, thus giving birth to that wonderful amalgam we now know as jazz-fusion. However, the legendary trumpeter did much more than breach the barrier between jazz and electronic instruments with this creation. He brought together for the first time piano and keyboard phenom Chick Corea and the then unknown guitar mastermind John McLaughlin. The two were poised to explode onto the jazz scene in subsequent decades, wholly changing the music landscape. Fast forward to the year 2009. After lengthy careers chock full of esteem and innovative fusion projects – such as McLaughlin's Mahavishnu Orchestra and Corea's Return to Forever – the two finally join forces once more for the first time since the recording sessions of Davis' Bitches Brew on a world tour with their latest project, Five Peace Band.

With the help of current jazz heavyweights Kenny Garrett (saxophone – not to be confused with Kenny G, please, for the love of God not to be confused with Kenny G), Christian McBride (bass) and Brian Blade (drums – replacing Vinnie Colaiuta on earlier dates), Five Peace Band has quickly become one of the most acclaimed acts on the touring circuit. Their first trip north of the border was to Montreal's Place des Arts. The outlandishly upscale venue seemed highly necessary in order to hold the gratuitous amount of prestige these men have garnered over the years. The crowd was much obliged to acknowledge that prestige as they gave a standing ovation – jumping out of their posh polyester seats – as the band came out onto the stage. "Raju," a number off McLaughlin's latest solo album, Floating Point, got things started. The energetic tune evoked images of India as McLaughlin and Garrett skirted through the eclectic melody in tandem.

McLaughlin was quick to the punch, taking the first solo. His guitar work is such that he plays sheets of notes at a time, taking the scenic route to get to the note he wants to emphasize. His groundbreaking style of playing and composition "changed the face of music," as Corea would let the crowd know later in the show. The now grey-haired McLaughlin quickly proved that he is as on top of his game as he's ever been, drenching us all in a downpour of notes. Though the Englishman's sound has evolved quite a bit over the years, the presence of the young McLaughlin's sound from his early days of obscurity with Miles Davis could still be heard in his playing. Corea's electric keyboard in "Raju" sounded identical to his work during the late '60s Davis recording sessions. Neither sexagenarian, however, had any trouble keeping up with their youthful counterparts.

Five Peace Band :: 04.28 :: Montreal
Philadelphia native Christian McBride is no stranger to playing with legendary jazz musicians; since the beginning of his career at the age of 17 he's been supporting the likes of Herbie Hancock, Pat Metheny and Freddie Hubbard. Unfazed by the colossal status of his bandleaders, McBride effortlessly pumped out deep glissandos on both his fretless electric bass and elegant upright. McBride switched over to Contrabass during the Corea penned "The Disguise," while the composer himself was on acoustic grand piano. The composition was a brilliantly conceived piece with very little in the way of repetition; complex harmonies rapidly flew by in lieu of the ostinatos found in most contemporary music, with Corea masterfully playing over the changes. Corea's style of improvisation is often similar to McLaughlin's outpouring sheets of notes.

Corea's sultry piano solo made way for the savory saxophone of Garrett, another Miles Davis alumnus (featured on the albums Amandla and Miles & Quincy Live at Montreux), who kicked things into high gear as he wailed away in the highest registers of his instrument. His solos were more melodious than the other members of Five Peace Band, stringing together melodies from thin air while often teasing such famous themes as the one from "The Girl from Ipanema." As Garrett exited stage right, McBride took over on lead, casually fingering away while leaning up against his gargantuan instrument as if it were a post. Despite the innumerable notes flying every which way, they were all equally salient thanks to the cleverly constructed concert venue, which made for the perfect acoustic environment.

Five Peace Band :: 04.28 :: Montreal
Between songs McLaughlin took the opportunity to address the crowd in surprisingly immaculate French, introducing the band to the largely Francophone audience. The constituency of the crowd reflected that of the band with a wide gamut of ages present.

The set closer, McLaughlin's "New Blues, Old Bruise," started off with a slow but vigorous drum solo from Blade, as I confoundedly tried to extract the meter of the 29-year-old's voluptuously complicated banging. McLaughlin's ability to take a novel approach to the often clichéd blues progression is a true mark of his creativity. Each member took turns soloing, striking poignantly dissonant and uncharacteristic notes for the blues idiom, while still managing to maintain an unmistakably "bluesy" feel.

The second set, a rarity for normally fleeting jazz shows, contained more experimental numbers than the first. "Señor CS" had Corea switching over to a synthesizer, an instrument he practically pioneered. On "Hymn to Andromeda" Corea was back over to grand piano, where he started the song off with a slew of rapid-fire atonal anarchy, a la Milton Babbitt. Underneath the seemingly random spray of notes there was surely some complex and meticulous thought process known only to Corea. The rest of the members joined in, each with their own similarly hectic display of ad-hocery, letting notes fly at the audience like Jackson Pollock lets paint fly at a canvas.

Five Peace Band :: 04.28 :: Montreal
Between the more tight-knit moments of the second set, the music tended to space out, but even during these winding moments the music exhibited a high degree of intricacy and cohesiveness. Corea and McLaughlin were after all present when 'space' was first introduced to jazz. When the tightly composed sections returned the band seemed to gel into a single entity. Apart from a technical flub with Garrett's microphone in the second set, all five pieces of the ensemble were flawless the whole night.

"In A Silent Way/It's About That Time," the song that started it all, was an apt close to the evening. The instant McLaughlin came in with that recognizable trill at the beginning of the song's theme the crowd let out a roar. The only thing missing was the haunting squawks of Davis' trumpet. Though it was a much-abridged version of the spacey exposé recorded with Davis all those years ago, the opportunity of seeing Corea and McLaughlin jam out to a masterpiece they had such a large part in creating was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

And in a city that loves its jazz, that sentiment seemed to be a universal one. Clocking in at nearly three hours, this concert showed that these pioneers of jazz-fusion have aged like a fine wine and still have what it takes to put on an amazing show.

Five Peace Band :: 04.28.09 :: Place des Arts :: Montreal, Quebec
Set I: Raju, The Disguise, New Blues Old Bruise
Set II: Señor CS, Hymn to Andromeda, Dr. Jackie
Encore: In a Silent Way/It's about that Time

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[Published on: 5/7/09]

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