Jazz CD Reviews
John McLaughlin & Chick Corea – Five Peace Band Live – Concord
Published on May 11, 2009
John McLaughlin & Chick Corea – Five Peace Band Live – Concord CRE-31397-02, CD 1: 67:59; CD 2: 71:04 ****:
(Chick Corea – piano, keyboards, producer; John McLaughlin – guitar, producer; Kenny Garrett – alto saxophone; Christian McBride – acoustic & electric bass; Vinnie Colaiuta – drums; Herbie Hancock – piano on track 3, disc 2)
At this point in their respective careers, both John McLaughlin and Chick Corea could rest on their laurels, and simply coast. But neither the guitarist or keyboardist have plans to do that, and both musicians continue to reinforce their contributions to jazz and their ongoing input into the genre’s future. On the double-album concert document Five Peace Band Live, which chronicles the musicians’ recent co-headlining tour, McLaughlin and Corea revisit some of their back catalog and furnish new material, presenting an invigorating and captivating 140 minute program.
Five Peace Band Live has an abundance of stellar moments and wide-eyed improvisations. For anyone who missed the chance to see them appear together, this song collection showcases the ear-opening performances that prove the two music-masters have lost none of their skills, charisma, or spark.
Corea and McLaughlin initially met as members of Miles Davis’ band, playing on In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew. Oddly, the two friends have rarely worked together since 1970, so hearing Corea and McLaughlin on stage at the same time is, naturally, quite a treat. Corea made sure the backing musicians were equal to the task, handpicking saxophonist Kenny Garrett (also a Davis alum), bassist Christian McBride (a leader in his own right who has an extensive background with many jazz luminaries), and drummer Vinnie Colaiuta (who has backed Frank Zappa, Joni Mitchell, Sting, and others). Also along for the ride as a special guest on one tune is another famous Davis graduate, Herbie Hancock.
The Five Peace Band sets forth strongly on McLaughlin’s sprinting "Raju," a divergent half-blues with brief repeating phrases that divide up the song’s 12-minute timeframe, and serve as separations between the solo sections. Right from the get-go it is apparent McLaughlin and Corea have not forfeited their aptitudes despite their senior citizenship. No matter how elaborate the time signatures, or how complex the harmony gets, or how fast-paced the piece becomes, Corea and McLaughlin are completely comfortable. Thematically, "Raju" somewhat echoes Return to Forever, with a memorable, mobile theme played via Garrett’s sax, McLaughlin’s guitar, and Corea’s keys. Each musician throws out mini-blasts of expert efficacy, leaving leeway for some sharply-spaced solo explorations.
The second excursion is Corea’s lighter-stepping "The Disguise," which Corea introduces on acoustic piano, spinning out a few solitary lines before Colaiuta enters, quickly accompanied by the rest of the quintet. Corea’s underlying arrangement comprises some slightly bossa nova sections that shift between major and minor chords. McLaughlin secures the first improvised segment, followed by Garrett, and McBride takes the final solo undertaking with an exceptional upright bass extemporization, where he shapes meticulous rhythmic figures on the instrument’s upper register with shining swiftness, unveiling his formidable acoustic bass technique while maintaining an emotional and passionate directness.
McLaughlin fans will appreciate "New Blues, Old Bruise," found on his 2006 album Industrial Zen. This interpretation is better, since McLaughlin jettisons the technology that warped the studio version with loops, digital voices, and other effects. First, however, it is Corea and Garrett who sparkle. Garrett builds and assembles one soaring solo after another, evolving his scales so he can structure the harmony in different ways, moving from one alteration to another while producing the equivalent of a musical maze. Garrett’s use of the alto saxophone’s upper range is also exhibited, as he passionately and excitingly extends his reach as his solos progress. During "New Blues, Old Bruise," Corea switches to electric piano, spilling out notes that accompany Garrett’s saxophone, comping on occasion. Meanwhile, Colaiuta holds the design together, offering up quarter and eight note triplets as he keeps the groove going during some wildly changing time signatures. In due time, McLaughlin exercises his input, his fingers darting up and down his guitar neck with his all but supernatural accuracy and dexterity.
The first half ends with the headiest and lengthiest track, the nearly half-hour suite "Hymn to Andromeda," a new multiform Corea creation, an unfolding conception that spirals and cascades so each player gets an opportunity to demonstrate his expertise. Corea inaugurates with an avantgarde display of his acoustic piano style, using a mallet to constrain the piano’s tone, while he caresses the keys with his other hand, and finally proceeds conventionally with both hands. Corea also uses his sustain pedals to generate some effects. McBride then effortlessly slips in, starting a bass/piano duet, using plucked bass notes. As Corea’s abstract lines become more forceful, McBride transfers to his bow to support Corea’s single-note adornments. McLaughlin’s spare solo, over a ballad portion, includes dynamic uses of space. But Garrett captures the scene during a galloping, fusion-esque extension, unleashing a devastating, wailing solo where he does not stop blowing for close to ten minutes, reaching for unparalleled peaks. Colaiuta matches Garrett’s intense passage with a deep beat that heightens the urgency. "Hymn to Andromeda" concludes by repeating the abstruse beginning, with the whole group taking the audience to a different universe.
The second set commences with a 22-minute rendering of Jackie McLean’s "Dr. Jackle," which Miles Davis recorded in the fifties and John Scofield covered in the early eighties. Corea ensues with a playful acoustic piano solo that evokes New Orleans. Then the mood changes as McBride brings in his bass and McLaughlin turns up the volume on his guitar amp, almost drowning out Corea, who consequently and sensibly swaps to his electric keyboard setup, although he returns to acoustic piano when the piece later decelerates. There is a constant swing throughout the expansive arrangement, particularly when Garrett steps out to deliver some soulful saxophone licks. Around the 17 minute mark, McBride takes a long solo that once again confirms his mastery of his stand-up bass, and should be required listening of any student studying jazz bass.
The second half gains momentum with a 20-minute adaptation of McLaughlin’s "Señor C.S.," another cut from Industrial Zen. Corea uses a varied tempo and flexible phrasing on understated electric keyboards that provide a foundation for McLaughlin’s accelerated jazz-rock lines. After the Corea/McLaughlin preface, there is a modification to a samba-like rhythm. McBride’s electric bass solo includes striking bebop runs that recall Jaco Pastorius, and are initiated with impressive expressiveness. Garrett, meanwhile, concentrates on the melody and uses deliberate phrasing, which acts as a fitting contraposition to McLaughlin’s searing riffs. McLaughlin then goes full force on a hyper-sped solo that illuminates his progression, impeccable pacing, and energy, and stimulates his bandmates to a frenzied response.
The proceedings get even hotter when the Five Peace Band dips into the waters of history and pulls out a sincere reading of Miles Davis’ "In a Silent Way/It’s About That Time" that adds special guest Herbie Hancock. The ensemble combines Davis’ soulful ambience, funk, and fusion jazz with a quietly concentrated asceticism that is absorbing if somewhat predictable for those well versed with the original. Sparse, smoky keyboard/guitar passages, that seemingly slow down or stop time, are applied until the groove kicks in near the six-minute mark. While traditionalists may still question if the number should be part of the jazz canon, there is no denying the joy of hearing and experiencing this composition in a concert setting. This is a full-band outing, everyone moving together as one unit, although there are multiple solo flashes that enliven the overriding rhythmic core.
The program encores with a jazz standard associated with Miles Davis, the Disney fairy tale "Someday My Prince Will Come," accomplished in a sprightly duo fashion that emphasizes Corea and McLaughlin’s quick-witted interplay, discharging their notes in an awe-inspiring bounty of rapid piano and guitar pulses.
The sound quality throughout is superb except for some minor instances when Corea’s acoustic piano is diminished in the mix due to the louder electric instruments. McBride’s bass is never diffused beneath the other instruments, and Colaiuta’s percussive work is also well represented. The mix is handled very well, despite the performances being culled from various venues.
2. The Disguise
3. New Blues, Old Bruise
4. Hymn to Andromeda
1. Dr. Jackle
2. Señor C.S.
3. In a Silent Way/It’s About That Time
4. Someday My Prince Will Come
— Doug Simpson