Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Jazz in July Series Finale at Stamford's Columbus Park Presents: Chick Corea and the Vigil

Chick Corea photo by Ralph A. Miriello c 2103

This past Wednesday August 7,2013, as a truly fitting ending to a talent packed Jazz in July concert series in Stamford's Columbus Park, the creative pianist Armando "Chick" Corea played a stirring set of music with his latest touring group the Vigil. Mr. Corea is a world class pianist and keyboard artist whose presence has been at the forefront of the contemporary jazz scene for nearly half a century. It's hard to believe that I first heard Mr. Corea play almost forty years ago in a now defunct venue in New Jersey. Mr. Corea was initiating a new guitar player to his then fusion band Return to Forever. The guitar player then was a young Al Di Meola, who amazingly sight read the incredibly complex and as yet unfamiliar charts as band mates Stanley Clarke, Lenny White and Chick put him through a baptism of fire. The music was
eye-popping and hit you like a mainline shot of adrenaline. It was part of a trend that was then blurring the lines between rock and jazz, creating a wild variant that boasted, incredibly complicated musical lines and unprecedented synchronous virtuosity, all executed at blazing, mind-numbing speed. Mr. Corea, along with the drummer Tony Williams and his band Lifetime, the guitarist John McLaughlin and his Mahavishnu Orchestra, the pianist Herbie Hancock and his Headhunters and the saxophonist Wayne Shorter and co-founder Austrian keyboardist Joe Zawinul's group Weather Report were all major proponents of this new and energetic music. These artists, among others, were all alumni of the trumpeter Miles Davis' foray into electronic music. Davis had taken jazz by the scruff of it's neck and daringly thrown it on it's ear by delving into the newly developing world of electronic instrumentation, first with his 1969 album In a Silent Way and later with his landmark album Bitches Brew. For many its was a sacrilegious experiment, but for Mr. Corea the die was cast and despite maintaining a love of both traditional and avant-garde jazz,  Mr. Corea has seemingly found the use of electronics as an effective tool, a bridge that allows him to reach his audience, expand his base and create some marvelous music along the way.

Mr. Corea started the evening's set by  introducing his fellow musicians to the packed audience. On guitar from Berkeley, California, Charles Altura; on saxophones, bass clarinet and flute from London, England, Tim Garland; from Queens, New York, on drums, Marcus Gilmore; on percussion, from Caracas,Venezuela Luisito Quintero and for this performance -replacing regular Vigil bassist Hadrien Feraud-on acoustic and electric bass from Philadelphia, PA the inimitable Christian McBride.

Chick Corea & the Vigil photo by Ralph A. Miriello c 2013

Mr. Corea has always been able to attract top talent to perform with him around the world.  On this overcast evening in Stamford, that threatened but never produced showers, he certainly didn't disappoint bringing with a top notch group. Mr. Corea started the set with a beautifully ruminative acoustic piano introduction, reminiscent of his early acoustic work on Now He Sings, Now He Sobs from 1968. This morphed into a driving ostinato bass groove by Mr. McBride opening the song.  Mr. Corea's has an orchestra-tor's penchant for creating harmonically and rhythmically rich compositions that make full use of all the timbres available from his band mates.The groove created by the rhythm section allowed for some splendid solos- Mr. Garland on soprano saxophone, Mr. Altura on electric guitar, an unbelievably facile bass solo by McBride and some bombastic percussive runs by both Quintero and Gilmore. The song spanned over twenty minutes without a moment's lull throughout.

Wasting little time for applause, Mr. Corea immediately went into a more mainstream jazz standard on acoustic piano, Jimmy Van Heusen's "It Could Happen to You," where his telepathic interplay with Mr. McBride was most evident. For his part, Mr. McBride beamed delightfully throughout the song and for that matter throughout most of the evening. He has the contented  smile of a Cheshire cat and his playing brings an unbridled enthusiasm to the music. He possesses an amazingly swift pizzicato technique and a sophisticated language based on tradition and invention. Mr. Altura's playing was fairly reserved and a bit pedestrian. A more robust solo by saxophonist Tim Garland on tenor was well received. Mr. Garland is a versatile reed man who plays with a fiery attack that is visceral and liquid is a welcome voice in this group. Mr. Corea, for his part, was content in accompanying his fellow musicians and enjoying their creative forays on the well worn melody.

Mr. Corea  has been a longtime follower of  L. Ron Hubbard's Scientology and over the years his music has frequently incorporated themes about space and time undoubtedly influenced by his readings.The next tune, a Corea composition titled "Portals to Forever," builds from the music that he once created for his fusion band "Return to Forever."  Creating an electronic keyboard generated ostinato that leads into another McBride bass line, the song features a repeating vamp played synchronously by Garland and Altura,  as Gilmore and Quintero lay down the groove. Mr. Corea is now a sprite seventy-two years old and his trim figure in t-shirt and jeans gave him the appearance of being a much younger person, especially when he stood to play synthesizer, a keyboard instrument that seems to be a like a fountain of youth for this man. When Mr. Corea uses the instrument's other-worldly sounds to communicate in conversation with his fellow musicians- in one case with the responsive Mr. Garland on tenor saxophone, and then with an equally compliant Mr. McBride on electric bass-he seems to be tapping into some invisible energy field that invigorates his creative juices. When the song allows for a drum solo, Mr. Gilmore creates a battery of sounds that rumble forth like an exploding fusillade of artillery on display. Mr. Garland introduced the woody, resonant sound of his bass clarinet in support, eventually closing the piece on soprano saxophone. Mr. Altura, who along with Mr. Gilmore are the youngest members of Mr. Corea's current group, was curiously stiff and seemed to be playing in water that was a bit over his head for most of the evening. Mr. Corea has been a good judge of talent and it will be interesting to see how well the young Mr. Altura develops on this tour. On this song, Altura's semi-hollow bodied Gibson ES335 guitar rang out with some sensitivity and he provided his best solo of the night. The song created a blissful trip into the forever of Mr. Corea's fertile mind.

"Royalty" is an homage to one of Chick's early mentor's the great drummer Roy Haynes. Corea played with Mr.Haynes as a fellow sideman in Stan Getz's group and later used Haynes on the seminal Now He Sings, Now He Sobs with bassist Miroslav Vitous. Mr. Corea introduced the song with a romantic acoustic piano solo that was subtly moving. Mr. McBride's warm, bellowing bass added to the lush arrangement. Mr. Garland entered on soprano saxophone as the song ascended like a delicate, bejeweled debutante climbing up a grandly winding staircase. All eyes were on Garland as he soared to new heights. The song then sauntered a bit and Mr. Altura added a flowing guitar solo that fit nicely into the changes. But it was Mr. McBride's upright bass that danced to the delight of the crowd. Interjecting snippets of "My Favorite Things" to his solo, McBride's command of what can at times be a lumbering instrument, was truly a lesson in just how artful a sound the instrument can produce in his skillful hands. He is clearly one of the most talented bassist of his generation.

The finale was a song from the new album, a Corea composition cosmically titled "Galaxy 32 Star 4."
The young twenty-seven year old drummer Marcus Gilmore, who just happens to be drummer Roy Haynes grandson, begins the song. Gilmore demonstrates  that rhythmically, at least,  the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. Mr. Gilmore is a creative drummer whose has a penchant for syncopated rhythmic lines that he plays predominantly on the toms and rims. He created a whirling, circular, poly rhythmic sound before the band joined him back on stage to start the song behind him. With Mr. McBride on a distinctive Jaco-style electric bass, Mr. Garland was on soprano saxophone and Mr. Corea played on synthesizer and Fender Rhodes. The song took on the distinctive flavor of early Weather Report. The song lasted for the better part of twenty-five minutes, with each of the artists having their turn at soloing generously.

Mr. Corea's latest band the Vigil is in fact just that, a representation of keeping the musical flame alive and preserving the magical connection that happens between an artist and his audiences over generations
 and through the cosmos that is life.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Incomparable Dianne Reeves plays Jazz in July at Stamford's Columbus Park

Dianne Reeves
This past Wednesday, July 31, 2013,  on one of those perfectly moderate summer evenings we rarely get to experience, the  stars were aligned for an outdoor concert in Stamford's Columbus Park featuring Ms. Dianne Reeves. A walk through the crowd and one could find every type of fan, from young hipsters to seasoned octogenarians, who all came for a rare opportunity to see up close and be touched by the magic of Ms Reeves.

Ms. Reeves is a once in a generation singer who possess's a rare combination of an excellent voice, impeccable timing, a great range and the innate ability to deliver a song with a feeling that makes it an intimate experience between her and her audience. At the age of fifty-six it is not hyperbole to consider her in the same breath as singers of the stature of Nancy Wilson, Dinah Washington or Carmen McRae and indeed even Ella Fitzgerald or her idol Sarah Vaughn could be considered peers.

The four time Grammy award winner was born in Detroit but raised in Denver, Colorado to a musical family. Her father was a singer and her mother played trumpet, Her uncle was a bass player in the Denver Symphony Orchestra and she is a cousin to the respected fusion keyboard master George Duke, who sadly just past away on August 5, 2013. As a young woman Reeves had a penchant for Latin Music and played with Eduardo del Barrio's group Caldera, Sergio Mendes and later Harry Belafonte. Her solo career took off in 1987 when she signed with a reinvigorated Blue Note Records.

Ms. Reeves brought a group of top notch musicians with her to Stamford to help her weave her spell. The drummer Teri-Lyne Carrington, the bassist Reginald Veal, the pianist Peter Martin and Brazilian guitar virtuoso Romero Lumbambo are members of her latest quartet, the same core group  from her latest album When You Know.

The set started out with the band warming up with a rousing version of the Gershwin classic "Summertime" featuring some soulful walking bass lines by Reginald Veal and beautiful acoustic guitar work by Lumbambo. Ms. Reeves entered the Bud Light stage to generous applause and she greeted the crowd warmly. She started off her set with the tune "Dreams,"  written and made famous by Fleetwood Mac's Stevie Nicks. The song started with Peter Martin using a Bruce Hornsby-style opening on piano and featured some symbiotic interplay between Ms. Reeves marvelously flexible voice and Reginald Veal's supple, fleet fingered electric bass lines. Fans in the crowd mouthed the familiar words that were somehow transformed by Ms. Reeves into a most personal statement. Scatting acrobatically throughout the bridge of the tune, the band enthusiastically provided a driving rhythm behind her. With the cool crisp night's perfect weather, Ms Reeves assured the crowd that this night would be like a private concert in her own outdoor living room.

The second song of the set was a sensuous ballad once made famous by Lena Horne, from her evocative role in the 1943 motion picture of the same name Stormy Weather. Ms. Reeves has amazing vocal control and can leap a full octave flawlessly if her mood suits her and to great effect. Pianist Peter Martin offered a gorgeously lush cascade of well placed notes during his solo adding to the dreamy mood created by Ms. Reeves and her pliant rhythm section. At one point Ms. Reeves found herself trying to hold the intimate mood of the song despite a battalion of screaming fire trucks rushing down the street behind the stage. Like the consummate professional, she took it all in stride and humanized the situation with her grace and humor laughing at the ridiculously adverse conditions of the moment. Ms. Reeves modulates her voice bringing an inherent sense of  emotional power to her interpretation of a song. Despite the familiarity of the music she personalizes making it her own.

Her love of Latin music was showcased on the next song, a samba style rhythm and she sang in what appeared to be a pseudo-Spanish vocalese. Mr. Veal changed from electric to upright bass and Mr. Lumbambo played a beautifully fluid flamenco-style guitar solo. Like all good entertainers Ms. Reeves tells a story. In this case the story was about her love of Latin music and about how when she would  listens to some of it, she would often times not understand a word the singer was saying. It didn't seem to matter since the soul of the song was all about the emotion and the rhythm that it evoked. Despite the lack of understandable lyrics, Ms Reeves proved that the music could connect to the audience on a very personal level wordlessly.

Ms. Reeves then introduced a song written by the young phenon bass player Esperanza Spalding, titled "Wild Rose." The song had a lilting, bouncy beat that had descending bridge, the perfect vehicle for Ms. Reeves, who can navigate swift changes with the aplomb of a seasoned sea captain in treacherous waters. Ms.Carrington accentuated the music while a series of rolling toms as Mr. Martin comped on what sounded like a Rhodes electric piano.

The next song, the powerful, "I've Grown Cold," started with Ms. Reeves speaking to the audience about the meaning of the song's lyrics, a true ending of a relationship. Mr. Veal produced a thumping lead-in bass line and contributed an accompanying duet vocal with Ms Reeves on the chorus.

Introducing the Brazilian guitarist Romero Lumbambo as her brother from another mother, Ms. Reeves started the unnamed bossa by vocalizing, almost operatically, over Mr. Lumbambo's breezy guitar rhythms. Ms. Reeves affinity for both Latin and Brazilian music is clearly reinforced by Lumbambo presence in her band . He offers a creative counter voice to Ms. Reeves and the two share a musical symbiosis that Downbeat's John Murph likened to the relationship Billie Holiday had with Lester Young.

One of the highlights of the show was Ms. Reeves creative rendition of Bob Marley's classic
"Waiting In Vain." The familiar reggae tune was brought to life by Mr. Martin's stirring piano solo, Mr. Veal's rock steady pulse and Ms. Carrington's propelling drums. But it was all Ms. Reeves show as she wailed "Ooo girl" Ooo girl" with convincing anguish and then went into an authentic Jamaican rap that had the crowd swaying. All we needed was a rum cocktail with a tiny umbrella to complete the journey.

The finale was a slow blues burner that allowed Ms. Reeves to beckon on her Gospel and blues roots. "Your Love is King" featured some soulful organ work by Peter Martin and a scorching Lumbambo solo on electric guitar that was a tour-de-force of melancholic artistry. Ms. Reeves can belt out the blues with the best of them, getting a raspy, snarling sound at will and singing with the command of a Baptist preacher at a revival meeting.The concert was a huge success as Ms. Reeves once again proved she is the premier female jazz vocalist of her generation. If you haven't yet caught her she will be performing with her marvelous quartet at the Tarrytown Music Hall on September 28, 2013. A word to the wise, don't miss the chance to see this fantastic performer when you can.