Saturday was my last day at the London Jazz Festival and it finished with Chick Corea’s trio at the Barbican. A lovely day, dodging showers, drinking coffee, a bit of blogging and then absorbing buzz and energy with the crowds at the South Bank, listening to Jazz Line up live and getting three bands in just over an hour of wildly varying and unfailingly interesting and enjoyable British jazz (Sam Crowe, Trish Clowes, Larry Stabbins; you can hear it here). Then it was off to the Barbican, arriving slightly sweaty palmed having got snarled up in tube chaos.
This trio are longstanding collaborators, Corea, Christian McBride and Brian Blade but have never recorded to my knowledge in this stripped down line – up (yet!). Seeing Keith Jarrett last year I was taken aback how by how familiar the sound of that trio and his playing were, to some extent the sound track of my jazz listening life. Corea I was thinking perhaps less so, but he has a way of playing that is utterly distinctive – perhaps I’ve listened more than I think. Another thought is that things he does have found their way into so many pianists playing that there’s a sound that everyone makes that you can track back to him to a degree, making him sound really familiar.
Here’s a few of the things he does with a band that just make hairs on my neck rise. When they drift into a swing feel they seem to be floating along. No-one is playing much even at fast tempos. A few chords or scattered phrases from the piano, long notes and skips on the bass and complementary skittering from the drums – they just glide. It gives me butterflies. Sure the showers of notes follow but its hang onto your hats then! Then there’s what he does with harmony. There are a lot of notes at times, but there’s something very sparse and open and stripped down about the phrases and lines he plays – its almost like they are only just attached to the harmonies until a crunchy rich chord appears and shifts everything sideways – it gives me goose bumps. All this was in the room on Saturday. Halfway through I was reminded of a set list for Iain Ballamy’s Anorak when I first saw them. Instead of giving tunes ordinary titles, he call them the ‘the opener’, ‘the latin number’, ‘the ballad’, ‘the burner’, ‘the blues’ – somewhat self mocking taken with the band’s name! I have no idea what the tunes were called on Saturday and didn’t recognise them but we had abstract noodle morphing into that floaty swing for the opener, a pretty waltz sounding thing, a latin/ samba number, splashy intro going into swing thing, the blues… i think.. (actually he told us that was Work by Monk) . They really revved up in the Samba and by the time of the closing blues they were just jamming weren’t they? Sidling up to the tune, trading phrases, having a great time – and so were we. Then on came special guest Jacqui Dankworth to sing But Beautiful and 500 Miles High (they gave every sign of not having planned the latter ) and then when the capacity crowd refused to go until they played a bit more, came back and played All Blues.
Chick Corea is just turning 70. He is unquestionably a hugely influential pianist. I’ll confess at times I’ve found his recorded output a bit cold or abstract for my taste – a very personal response – but live on saturday they just glowed and it all made sense.