On Friday, October 18th, Koerner Hall kicked off this season’s TD Jazz Series with the man who performed the second ever concert at Koerner Hall – 22-time Grammy Award winning pianist Chick Corea, joined by the phenomenal bassist Christian McBride and drummer Brian Blade. These virtuosos have performed frequently together as Trilogy since 2013, and much of last night’s stunning program of multi-faceted jazz music was drawn from two recordings released in 2014 and 2018. Executive Director, Performing Arts, Mervon Mehta thanked Next Pathway for sponsoring this evening’s performance, as well as BMO Financial and the Toronto Star for their sponsorship of Koerner Hall’s 11th season.
The 78-year-old Corea arrived on stage looking fit and trim in stylishly faded jeans and multi-coloured running shoes, and as usual, he introduced McBride and Blade right away, making it clear that this collaboration isn’t about him as leader but as part of a trio of equals. The supreme talents of each artist were on full display throughout the concert, even as each contributed seamlessly to a tight and intimate ensemble of like-minded players who communicate intuitively and support one another implicitly. And they had a ton of fun doing it! When I saw Blade perform with Joshua Redman at Koerner Hall last year, I wrote about the smile that never left his face - that was true of the whole trio tonight, and of the sold-out audience as well.
The first order of business for Corea was to “tune up” the band and then “tune up” the audience, something that has become popular at most, if not all, Corea concerts. With the piano keyboard facing the audience, he plays numerous short riffs and gets the audience to sing the riffs back to him, and he challenges the audience with ever more complex riffs until the “tuning” is complete and the band settles in to its first number, which was “500 Miles High”. This chart originated with Corea’s 1973 Return to Forever ensemble, and then was recorded live for “Trilogy 2”. It’s in the classic Corea jazz samba style and showcases the incredible skills of all three musicians. Corea’s playing is as creative as ever, with soaring arpeggiostic runs, interspersed with pulsing and percussive chords and melodic licks that appear and reappear like leitmotifs. His touch is so effortless, and his musical ideas spring forth from some limitless fount of inspiration available only to the gifted few. The music is forceful, and yet nothing is ever forced. The same is true of the playing of McBride and Blade, whom Corea made a point of applauding numerous times throughout the evening.
The second selection was a tribute to the great Bill Evans and his famous interpretation of the Disney classic song, “Alice in Wonderland” by Sammy Fain. After an Evans-like solo intro, the trio eased into the lovely jazz waltz with wondrous sensitivity. A solo by bassist McBride was a blur of creativity punctuated by soft and intricately placed chords by Corea and accented by astonishingly delicate and intricate brush work by Blade.
McBride introduced the next tune - Ellington’s “In a Sentimental Mood”, arranged by Corea. Again the piece began with an extended and complex intro by Corea. You don’t often see right/left hand cross overs at high speed in jazz, but it emerges from Corea’s unique improvisational style in a naturally spontaneous and unaffected way. McBride switched to the bow for his beautifully lyrical solo, which helped him to highlight the famous melody and bring a rarely heard sonic dimension to his improvisations. Again, Blade’s brushing was subtly complex and distinctive in support of his colleagues.
Blade then introduced the last two numbers of the set, both by a man whom he praised as one of the geniuses of jazz - Thelonius Monk. “Crepuscule with Nellie” began as a percussion solo, with Blade wielding the mallets and laying down a spellbinding, tribal kind of vibe that morphed into a slow stomp when he seamlessly switched to his regular sticks. The musicians clearly enjoyed the interplay between one another in this (not that they didn’t at other times - just a lot of smiles happening on this one). McBride’s blazing solo demonstrated finger speed and strength with a clarity that is truly bewildering. “Monk’s Dream” followed in an upbeat swing mode, filled with Corea’s trademark bursts of melodic riffs and rhythmic chord clusters. Rarely have I seen a trio with three such towering talents blend so well. It was not surprising at all to see them end the set with a group hug.
The concert’s second half had real appeal for the more hard-core fans of Corea’s fusion or free-form jazz modes. The first segment was a “mash-up” of three pieces dedicated to Baroque composer Domenico Scarlatti, including a Trio improvisation, a Scarlatti sonata and a chart called “A Spanish Song” by Corea. The trio closed with a 2001 Corea composition, or what Corea referred to as “a little thing to get us going”, called “Fingerprints”, which he recorded with Trilogy in 2014 as a response to Wayne Shorter’s classic “Footprints”. This was yet another example of dynamic displays of virtuoso playing by all three musicians, with Corea at one point standing at the back to admire the soloing of Blade, who is half Corea’s age. For an encore, bassist McBride launched into “Blue Monk”, a swinging blues number that saw Corea again conducting an extended audience jam. The audience must be complimented for singing back to him some pretty intricate little blues riffs. Great fun for all, and a magical night of jazz music by three jazz masters.
Next up in the TD Jazz Concerts is Chucho Valdés: Jazz Batá in Koerner Hall on Wednesday December 4th 2019 at 8pm.
Chick Corea; Photo credit: www.chickcorea.com
Review by Jeff Mitchell
Toronto ON October 19th 2019
Chick Corea Trio: Trilogy
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