By: Joe Lang
Corea, Clarke and White :: 09.08.09 :: Dakota Jazz Club & Restaurant :: Minneapolis, MN
If 2008 was the year of reunions, 2009 has to be the year of spin-offs. While last year saw seminal bands including Van Halen, Return to Forever and The Police reunite, this year's answer has been fragments of super groups past. Instead of reforming the whole band, Blind Faith leaders Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood reunited and did an arena tour, and perhaps more curiously, Chick Corea dropped shredmeister Al Di Meola and continued on with Return to Forever rhythm section Stanley Clarke and Lenny White. As a nod to years gone by, the group kicked off the tour at the Hollywood Bowl with former Return to Forever guitarist Bill Connors, but for following dates the group has abandoned the electricity and amp stacks for a more subdued acoustic variety of virtuosity.
Chick Corea by Susan J. Weiand|
For their two night stint at the Dakota Jazz Club & Restaurant, things were no different. After taking the stage for the last set of their run, Corea sat down at the piano with a series of dark and softly bubbling chordal fragments before Clarke began pedaling behind, further heating the sonic stew as White whipped out the mallets to continue stirring the pot. Clarke eventually broke into a minimal but melodic and funky bass line while Corea weaved in and out of chromaticism and White worked the ride. Corea began ripping through lines on the keyboard and the dynamics came down enough for Clarke to take an acoustic bass solo. Perhaps in a bout of "one-upmanship," Clarke ripped through his own diatonic linear flurries before passing the ball back to Corea to end the piece. For the second track, Clarke drew his bow and began the intro before White and Corea answered for what was to be the continuous theme throughout the night - swing.
Throughout the 2008 Return to Forever tour there was a point in every concert performance where Di Meola would take a break and his conspicuous absence was answered as the three other band mates swung through some straight jazz breakdowns before the guitarist returned to the stage and the group continued with its classic fusion repertoire. The trio on display this night delved right into some hard swinging jams on an uptempo version of "Stella by Starlight." The standard initially found Corea dominating the dynamic landscape as White and Clarke laid back, but the rhythm section quickly turned up the heat in a double time romp as Corea continued to hammer out rapid fire lines before deferring back to Clarke. Clarke had obviously warmed up by this point, as his solo was more about continuity and melody than muscle and technique. White muted his hi-hat in a punctuated but nuanced swing rhythm before Corea and Clarke dueled in an improvised call and response culminating with the duo grimacing and humorously shaking their instruments in a mock vibrato move.
Lenny White by Susan J. Weiand|
Corea rose to address the audience and launched into a humorous little dialogue. "I assume some of you are fans of classical music here? Well in classical music the conductor will often address the audience and says, 'Ladies and Gentlemen we will now have the world premiere of this composition.' In jazz we just call it a rehearsal." Upon audience laughter Corea remarked, "Okay, okay. We will now perform the world premiere rehearsal of Stanley Clarke's composition 'Three Wrong Notes.'" After taking his spot at the bench, the three jumped into Clarke's fast swinger, which featured (three) punctuated and wonderfully humorous chromatic hits in the head and an even tastier solo from Clarke. Along with more laughter and sparring between Corea and Clarke, White took a minimal but well placed solo, one of the more musical of the night. The tune climaxed and Corea and Clarke high-fived before Corea stepped back up the microphone. "We'd like to feature another composition with some melody, maybe some harmony, maybe a little rhythm," Corea said before beginning Bill Evans' "Waltz for Debbie." The tune contained the most variance of all compositions throughout the evening with Clarke and White accenting the one and three beats, Corea quoting "The Romantic Warrior" in his intro and White throwing down on a train beat.
The trio closed the stellar set with two crowd pleasers. Interestingly, both tantalized hardcore fans with quotes of melody or changes before launching into the full tune. For the first, "500 Miles High," Clarke took an understated solo that Corea quickly joined, finding both quoting motifs from the head before taking on a straightforward version of the tune. The virtuosic highlight of the night, however, came as Clarke ripped through a linear polyrhythm in his solo that was some of the most technically inspiring acoustic bass work I've ever heard. Clarke was laughing and shaking his hand off by the time his solo finished and he and the boys closed the piece. For the encore, Corea's signature, "Spain," the group took on a fantastic, deconstructed version of the chord changes that included minimal if any quotes from the melody. To oblige listeners, Corea finished the piece with an audience sing-along after playing the familiar melody. By the end of both tunes it was obvious to the more casual listeners what songs they were, but it was far more satisfying to hear the deconstructed versions of each.
Stanley Clarke by Susan J. Weiand|
While the night certainly had what most jazz fans would look forward to - virtuosity, complex harmony and soul - it's worth noting that there could have been more cohesiveness to the trio. Much of the evening was dominated by Corea, whose soloing stepped on that of his band mates as much or more than supported, which resulted in the relegation of White to a mainly a support role. While there isn't anything necessarily wrong with that, considering the players' pedigrees and comparing them to younger trios like The Bad Plus or Fly Trio or Vijay Iyer's groups who take collective improvisational excursions verging on telepathy, the standard band leader setup here leaves the listener with a little to be desired. It is wonderful to hear brand new compositions, but hearing the trio take on well-worn standards isn't necessarily the most scintillating of concert performances. The trio is just barely getting off the ground on their grueling world tour, so the game might change, but if not, from three of the greatest musicians in the world, the operative modifier might be "underwhelming."
Corea, Clarke and White are on tour now; dates available here.
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