Thursday, March 19, 2009


[This link will take you to a story on Chick Corea and John McLaughlin's Five Peace Band, in the Denver alt-weekly Westword. But what I turned in at first was nearly twice as long. So click the link if you want to read that, or check out the "director's cut" below.]

When Chick Corea says, “I’ve got an incredible number of things in the fire incubating,” it’s not braggadocio, it’s a pure statement of fact. He’s going to be doing his first-ever solo piano tour of Europe this summer; he’s preparing for concerts featuring bassist Stanley Clarke and drummer Lenny White; and he’s planning some shows with vibraphonist Gary Burton, a frequent duet partner over the years – the pair have won four Grammys for their collaborations. But his current project is possibly the most exciting thing he’s done since…well, since last year’s Return to Forever reunion tour (now preserved on a double live CD, Returns). Corea is on the road with the Five Peace Band, a group featuring guitarist John McLaughlin, saxophonist Kenny Garrett, bassist Christian McBride and drummer Brian Blade, who’s taken over for original skinsman Vinnie Colaiuta.

This is not only a reunion of two former Miles Davis sidemen and superstars of the early ’70s fusion scene (Corea with RTF and McLaughlin with the Mahavishnu Orchestra), but a multigenerational all-star band. Garrett – who also played with Davis, albeit in the 1980s – has a lengthy and respected discography as a leader; his 2006 album Beyond the Wall won deserved praise from critics. Bassist Christian McBride has been one of the most in-demand players in jazz since making his debut at the dawn of the ’90s, and drummers Colaiuta and Blade are highly respected veterans in their own right.

The band was Corea’s idea, and he made all the overtures that brought it together. “I called the other guys and said, ‘Listen, I want to present an idea to John, would you be into it?’ That was a quick conversation,” he says with a laugh. “I actually presented the whole idea as a package to John, because I thought that particular lineup would make great spiritual chemistry. And he liked it right away. He knew everyone’s work, especially Vinnie, who he had recorded and performed with. He had never worked with Kenny and Christian, but he knew their playing and liked the idea right away.”

Corea has also taken a strong hand in preparing repertoire for the band’s shows. He wrote two new pieces for the group, “Hymn to Andromeda” and “The Disguise,” and what he describes as “a cute new arrangement” of Jackie McLean’s “Dr. Jackle.” The group has also been performing versions of McLaughlin’s “Raju,” “New Blues Old Bruise” and “Señor CS” – all tracks from his last two albums, Industrial Zen and Floating Point – and a reworking of Miles Davis’s “In A Silent Way.”

In some ways, the Five Peace Band is a throwback to fusion’s heyday, a reminder of a time when giants bestrode the earth under the imprimatur of jazz. It’s also a sign that the genre itself – that solotastic, prog-rockin’ hybrid of Miles Davis and Yes – is back, not only as an influence on younger players but as a vibrant, continuing form. “Fusion music, or whatever you wanna call it – that direction of music which started around Miles’s time – has never really stopped,” says Corea. “It’s been changing a lot, and musicians dip in and out of it, but it’s always there. My perspective recently, having put Return to Forever back together and now working with John, is that it’s very much alive, because I’m right in the middle of it.”

Corea’s goal with the Five Peace Band is to preserve that vitality; for that reason, the only souvenir of the group’s existence is to be a live album, recorded during the group’s initial run of European shows late last year. “None of us are interested in going into a studio,” he asserts. “The music works live. It would seem clinical to bring it into a studio, to play without an audience.

“John was particularly not interested in making a CD,” he continues. “But what we did do is – because Bernie Kirsch, our engineer, is recording every night – John went ahead and chose two renditions of each song in the set, and sent those to me. I chose the ones that I liked the best, and we mixed it up and a live record now does exist. I think it’s probably gonna be released worldwide. I think it’s a really good-sounding package and a good representation of that band with Vinnie in it.”

Similarly, last year’s Return to Forever reunion appears destined to remain live performance-only. “More and more over the past five years, 10 years, going into a studio to quote-unquote make a record has been less and less a part of my musical life,” he says. “There’s less and less remuneration in it, and I find that the live recordings are actually reflect what kind of a spirit of music I like to give to an audience even more. So I haven’t been moved to go into the studio to record for a good while.”

This doesn’t mean he’s slowed down as a composer, of course. Corea continues to write new music, but he prefers to arrange it and then take it on the road. During our conversation, he expresses great enthusiasm for the approach Metallica, of all groups, has taken. The metal titans have their own website,, at which fans can download recordings of complete concerts, sometimes less than 24 hours after the show has taken place. Corea sees this as a terrific strategy for jazz musicians, whose songs change in the moment, night after night. “The idea of making music available through the public through the artist’s website is the way to do it, from now and into the future,” he says. “Especially music like we play, which is not studio music.”

Ultimately, Chick Corea seems focused on direct communication with his fans, whether it be through the tour blog on his website (the Five Peace Band’s site includes complete set lists from every performance) or his preference for live performance over studio recording. In a time when the traditional music industry avenues are less and less rewarding to the performer, he’s making what’s probably the most logical moves of any jazz player of his generation – taking it to the people, and listening to them in return. “My best monitor of what’s going on in the culture concerning music and art is when I perform in front of an audience and I see how they respond to various things that I present to them,” he agrees. “Cause I present them with a lot of different kinds of things. The other group of opinions is the press – media, magazines and awards shows and that kind of thing. And although I’m a member of that community too, I pay less attention to it.”

[Photo by Kris Campbell.]

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