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Chick Corea & Gary Burton: A fiery delight on a cold, wet night (review)

Chick Corea and Gary Burton with the Harlem String Quartet
Centrepointe Theatre
Thursday, October 11, 2012

October 11 was a cold and rainy day, but fire and warmth reigned at the Centrepointe Theater where Chick Corea and Gary Burton were playing with the Harlem String Quartet.

This concert was the best I have seen in a while. The last Ottawa concerts that excited me this much were Ellias/Copland/Vedady, Monder/Bleckmann, Stretch Orchestra, Mahanthappa’s Apex Band, and The Dave Liebman Group. I have seen Chick a few times and this is the best I had ever seen him play since seeing him in late 2007 in LA with the Elektric band. Victor Wooten was subbing for Pattitucci on that gig. I only had the pleasure of hearing Burton on one other occasion when he played at the Ottawa Jazz Festival with Pat Metheny on an even wetter day in an outdoor concert.

The night was divided into two sets. The first set was a duo between Corea and Burton that started off with a couple of originals and then played some standards that were cleverly and intricately arranged by Corea. The second set was with the Harlem String Quartet. Although it was still jazzy at times, the string quartet brought out Corea’s classical side in the arrangements. The string players didn’t improvise in any tunes other than during their opening tune up which developed into a jam that cued into their first piece of the night.

Chick Corea and Gary Burton (archival photo courtesy of the artist)It was the first concert I saw at Centrepointe Theater. The venue hosted SF Jazz Collective when they came to town. The sound at the venue was great and the layout very nice. It is similar to the Kailash Mital Theater at Carleton University but felt more like the NAC with its door attendants and bar service.

The first two pieces of the night were originals from Corea and Burton’s 1998 album Native Sense. The evening started with Corea’s signature-style flamenco fire on the piano, dispersing flurries of arpeggios on a pedal along with Burton, on a piece called "Love Castle". Burton flawlessly ran through fast dyads as the stragglers came in.

The second piece, "Duende", had an equally dramatic flamenco intro full of trills and descending arpeggio chords but with much more angular chromatic playing from Corea. Throughout Burton and Corea would make their parts come together either rhythmically, harmonically, or melodically, and then break into independent parts again.

The duo demonstrated a connectivity and interplay only found in groups which have been playing together for years. Not only did they have the benefit of being experienced top-of-the-line jazz musicians themselves, but they’ve also had the advantage of having played together for 40 years.

The duo took turns talking to the audience and introducing tunes. Chick liked to crack a few jokes whereas Burton was “the historian of the group”, as Corea described him before beginning the music.

The third piece was the bebop classic "Hot House" (the title song of their latest collaborative CD), which was cleverly rearranged with twists on the melody that were exhilarating. Each took a solo, then they traded 8s, then 4s, then they soloed together before returning to the melody.

For the next piece, the musicians let the audience figure out its title. Corea pulled out a long piece of sheet music and, as they played on, it became clear that it was an arrangement of "Eleanor Rigby". There were some truly beautiful moments in this piece, some that felt like a pause through hyperspace, and another consisting of unison chords that sounded and felt like a bell pushing side to side. Here is a video of the arrangement at another event: www.youtube.com/watch?v=bxfi0g_5CiM

As Burton gave the audience some more history about how Corea and Burton had both played with Stan Getz, he introduced the next piece which was Corea’s arrangement of "Chega De Saudade": a piece which they both learned in Getz’s band.

For the second set the duo brought out the Harlem String Quartet to play with them. This group of young musicians was introduced to Corea at a surprise birthday party. They impressed him so much he asked them to record with him and go on this tour.

The set started with a tune-up that transformed into an improvisation before Chick counted in the first tune; his piece "Overture" flowed into his piece "Waltz". The pieces worked as a good introduction for the chamber-jazz direction of this set. It featured detailed and intricate arrangements which created interplay between the strings, keyboards, and vibraphone. The textures would switch between strings to vibe and keys, to keys and strings in homophony as the vibes did something different. Each musician’s part was interesting in and of itself but still coherent as a whole.

"The Adventures of Hypocrites: Movement V" was the following piece. This work featured the string quartet without keys or vibes. It was very classically-influenced with its motives that would jump from one part to the other spreading the attention to each individual instrument.

Afterwards, Corea and Burton joined the quartet to play an arrangement of "Round Midnight" that was at a medium tempo. It was busy but without any boondoggle. The feel changed from groovy, to bluesy, to tango, to classical, to contemporary. It was a compressed gem of styles that fit together in a smooth manner. After Burton’s ballady solo on this piece, Corea took an intense chromatic take on the tune that pushed on the border of its recognizability.

The final tune of the set was Corea’s piece called "Mozart Goes Dancing", jokingly nicknamed "The Mozaria". It had the Spanish fire, the classical side and some 4-on-4 groove; a mash-up of Mozart and Corea.

The group returned to a standing ovation to play "Brasilia", which was a beautiful and dark piece that danced like leaves falling in autumn. It slowed and sped up again and had a mid-range ostinato that kept the mood throughout. After this piece and a short pause the group played a short, but intricate and angular, outro arrangement bringing the evening to an end.

    – Justin Duhaime

Set 1

  1. Love Castle
  2. Duende
  3. Hot House
  4. Eleanor Rigby
  5. Chega De Saudade

Set 2

  1. Overture & Waltz
  2. The Adventures of Hypocrites
  3. Round Midnight
  4. Mozart Goes Dancing

Encore

  1. Brasilia
  2. Outro