Kronomyth 1.0: DUKE SKELETON. I first heard this music on Inner Space, a compilation that was easier to find than the original elpee, and it blew my mind. I was already a fan of Chick’s fusion phase at the time, but hadn’t been exposed to the post bop and avant-garde recordings of his early years. Hearing “Litha” and “Straight Up And Down” for the first time added a new dimension to my appreciation of Chick Corea. The lineup aligns with the contemporary quintets of Miles Davis and Wayne Shorter: trumpet (Woody Shaw, Jr.), tenor sax (Joe Farrell), bass (Steve Swallow), drums (Joe Chambers) and piano (Corea). The opening “Litha” comes out swinging with Shaw and Farrell sharing the melody, then shifts gears for short runs before returning to the loping opening melody, while Chambers propels the piece with perfectly timed crashes and tumbles and Corea spars with the melody from a distance. “This Is New” almost completely eschews melody for form, Corea again (surprisingly) avoids throwing any big punches, and it’s Farrell who lands the big blow with a well-placed solo. Corea finally emerges from the background for the title track, a sentimental ballad with a lovely melody, featuring only a trio of piano, drums and bass. The closing “Straight Up And Down” comes spilling out in a rhythm that recalls Herbie Hancock at first, but quickly turns into a spirited chase with everyone joining in; hearing Swallow keep pace with Corea on this song is a hoot. As I said, having been exposed only to his later recordings, hearing Corea adopt a “less is more” aesthetic was a shock to me (albeit a pleasant one). Compositionally, Tones For Joan’s Bones is remarkably strong for a debut record, although Corea was in his mid 20s and already an established session player. Honestly, the elpee is worth hearing for the playing of Joe Chambers alone, but hearing Corea in a “normal” jazz setting is also worthwhile as it reveals just how unusual he was.
Another bass tour de force from Stanley Clarke, this time featuring an all-star lineup that looks like a jazz readers’ poll for the year’s best artists: Jeff Beck, Chick Corea, George Duke, Steve Gadd, John McLaughlin, David Sancious, Lenny White. Journey To Love basically returns to the same approach as his last album: throw down some contagious funk, slip in a smooth-as-satin vocal song, add some old school jazz and class things up with a modern classical composition. The new wrinkle here is the addition of Duke and Beck. Clarke found a sympathetic partner in Duke, the two meshing like finely tuned and funky gears on the opening “Silly Putty” and “Hello Jeff,” the latter turbocharged with the electric guitar of Jeff Beck. David Sancious and Steve Gadd are also inspired choices, with Sancious playing lead and rhythm with equal aplomb. Maybe it was the presence of Duke, but Clarke takes on more complex arrangements on this album. “Concerto for Jazz/Rock Orchestra,” for example, features a full brass section that recalls Frank Zappa’s horny exploits (e.g., The Grand Wazoo) and stiches together several different parts with precision and skill. Compared to the concerto, the Corea-Clarke collaboration, “Song to John” (dedicated to John Coltrane), is a snooze. I get where the first part sounds like the shimmering and slowly unfolding sound of John’s later music, but the second part just sounds like Chick noodling around, and John McLaughlin’s acoustic guitar is a wet match that never lights. Still, it’s a minor complaint against a major work. Journey To Love continues to fill a special need for bass-driven jazz/rock. So few musicians were making (or were capable of making) music like this, and it’s easy to hear why many considered Clarke the instrument’s greatest champion. Together with his last and next albums, this represents a triumphant trio of jazz/rock that every bass aficionado (and plenty of pure music lovers) should own.
Kronomyth 1.0: SON OF THE RETURN TO FOREVER. The first solo album from Stanley Clarke is an RTF record in all but name; a Light As A Feather in his cap, if you will. It’s a transitional record, featuring vocals and flute (holdovers from the last RTF album) while looking forward to the future quartet of Clarke, Chick Corea, Lenny White and electric guitar (here provided by Pat Martino). Andy Bey and Dee Dee Bridgewater create an interesting male/female dynamic in the vocals that gives Children of Forever a unique flavor among RTF-related albums that almost feels like Frank Zappa at times (“Children of Forever,” for example, always reminds me of Frank’s “Village of the Sun.”) Children of Forever is both a collaboration between Clarke and Corea and an inversion of their previous roles, with Clarke writing all but one track, lyricist Neville Potter providing the spacey/spiritual subject matter and Corea handling the arrangements to keep everything contained within the RTF universe. The one track arranged by Clarke, “Children of the Future,” begins to fall apart in the middle and suggests that Corea was the stronger arranger of the two (the rest of the album bears that out). “Unexpected Days” shows the difference in their styles, and has a much more sophisticated and languid feel with no trace of funk. Speaking of sophistication, “Butterfly Dreams,” the only track to feature Bey without Bridgewater, could have come from the smooth-as-butter Johnny Hartman himself. On those tracks and the longer “Sea Journey,” it feels as though Corea has hijacked the session, and that may be the only complaint that Clarke fans can level against the album: it’s not a true Stanley Clarke solo album in the same sense as a School Days. As a warm run for the next iteration of RTF, however, Children of Forever is a welcome find for fusion fans and one of the better examples of Corea’s music in a song-oriented form. It’s not the bass showcase I expected, except for the brilliant “Bass Folk Song” and a wild bass fiddle solo on “Sea Journey,” nor is the guitar fully integrated into their sound yet (Pat Martino’s lone solo on “Sea Journey” is more notey than notable). All in all, it’s not quite as amazing as LAAF, Hymn or the Di Meola-era discs (in my opinion), but it’s definitely in the same family.
Kronomyth 4.0: MY SPANISH GUITART. Despite their personal differences over the years, Al Di Meola and Chick Corea have always been kindred spirits musically speaking. Splendido Hotel reunites the pair in what could be seen as a remake of My Spanish Heart in the guitarist’s own image. Both are double-album displays of a singular genius from multiple angles: jazz/rock fusion, Latin, classical, funk, romantic. Now, truth be told, not all of these facets were native to Di Meola, and it seems that some were fastened on to expand the Hotel. The classical “Isfahan,” for example, has its source in the languid jazz/classical landscapes of Corea, not Di Meola. And the ready-made funk song, “I Can Tell,” while well done (Di Meola’s voice is surprisingly restrained and effective), has more in common with Stanley C than Al Di. The rest of Splendido Hotel offers excellent views of Dimeoladom: the sonic steeplechases (“Alien Chase on Arabian Desert,” “Dinner Music of the Gods”), the various tangos (“Splendido Sundance,” “Two to Tango”) and tango fusions (“Al Di’s Dream Theme”), the romantic warrior poems (“Silent Story In Her Eyes”). Had Di Meola simply stopped there, Splendido Hotel would have been a logical (and excellent) continuation of his first three albums. Instead, he adds about an album’s worth of material that exposes a heretofore unseen side of the artist: smooth jazz (provided by a young Philippe Saisse on his first recording), funk, classical and pop (a duet with Les Paul on the Al Martino hit, “Spanish Eyes”), and even a closing lullaby (“Bianca’s Midnight Lullaby”). As I said earlier, it’s a bit of a case of artificial siding, but Di Meola doesn’t disappoint in any of those settings (although “Isfahan” is admittedly arid). I’d stop short of calling Splendido Hotel his masterpiece, because Al Di Meola albums don’t shake out like that; consistency is one of his hallmarks. Rather, this is a masterful collection of many pieces, some of which fit perfectly with previous impressions, and others that are slightly foreign but nearly as flattering.
These are the midnight perambulations of the extant Miles sextet (minus Moreira and Miles himself), congregated in some eternal kitchen of the soul where scraps of meat and melody are served to the insatiable jazzeaters who would have a bronze cast of Miles’ every footfall. Originally recorded in September 1970 (and purists will point out that Steve Grossman was technically out), the music on The Sun didn’t see the light of day for years, and only then appropriately in the land of the rising sun. It is, like much of the Miles Davis marginalia, worthy of time and note. You could see this as a semi-Circle: a quartet of bass, drums, piano and sax with Chick Corea, Dave Holland and the brilliant Jack DeJohnette at the core. The songs fit squarely into Corea’s avant-garde phase: dissonant with a very tactile and percussive quality that includes scratching, groaning and quick staccato clusters of keys jumbled together. Solos devolve (evolve?) into an orgy of frenetic notes, structure and chaos play an endless game of tug of war, and throughout you’ll find the occasional moments of calm that pierce through the stormclouds of fierce invention and remind you of the potency of melody. Now, nothing on The Sun could be called timeless music. Corea fans have likely had their fill of this stuff already; Grossman’s fans may be more inclined to make the effort, since he shines on this recording. It appears from the liner notes that a few guests (including Dave Liebman on some bagpipe-like instrument called the musette) joined the fun on the last three tracks, although their contributions are barely audible.
Kronomyth 49.0: ICONAKLASSICS. Now that the Akoustic (nee Elektric) Band had netted their own Grammy, what to do but take their newfound fame on the road. Alive features more of the same: jazz oldies rendered by a cross-generational trio intent on venerating and vexating the classics simultaneously. As I pointed out in an earlier review for AMG, this approach can be divisive for music listeners. In fact, even the trio seems divided on what they wanted to achieve. In most cases, Corea opens the tune with a thoughtful exposition of the theme, only to have Dave Weckl and John Patitucci come in and noisily upend it. (The experience is not unlike watching puppies at play and lamenting the once-loved, now-chewed objects left in their wake.) Obviously, a lot of people enjoyed this approach; they don’t just give Grammys away, although it seems like that sometimes. But the distance between Corea’s reverence and Weckl’s irreverence is too great a chasm for me to cross comfortably. When Corea is willing to enter to fray, as on the closing “Morning Sprite” (one of two CC originals on here), the trio can really tear things up in a good way. The Elektric albums clearly showed that Corea was able to keep pace as an innovator, but I suspect he’s something of a romantic at heart, and he wears it on his sleeve here, while Weckl and Patitucci might as well be wearing warpaint. Again, you may feel differently, “a new chassis for old classics” and all that, particularly if you enjoyed their earlier Akoustic expedition. The digital recording is exceptionally clean (a GRP hallmark) and the audience intrusion is minimal, so it feels more like a studio album most of the time and thus serves as a fitting bookend to the first Akoustic recording.
Kronomyth 37.0: SWIRLED TOUR. This is a studio recording of material that Chick and his current five-piece band were playing on tour, some of it written as far back as 1979 but captured here for the first time. Recorded in a single day in South Africa (thus the parenthetical addendum), Again And Again is split down the middle between warm Latin jazz (side one) and noisier, funkier fare (side two). Steve Kujala also splits his time between the flute and the sax, and something about the flute makes the first side quieter, particularly in the rhythms from Tom Brechtlein, Don Alias and Carlos Benavent. This has historically never been a favorite album of mine, but it seems I’ve softened with age and thoroughly enjoyed both halves this time. The first side is a good example of Corea the composer, particularly the opening “Quintet #3,” a piece that had originally been scored for a trio (according to the liner notes). It’s one of those warm musical vistas bustling with good ideas and well synchronized movements. The two tracks that follow are also enjoyable and representative of this “quiet period” in Corea’s work before the bombast of the Elektric/Akoustic Band. On side two, “Diddle Diddle” has always caught my ear for its Lounge Lizards edginess (once a punk, always a punk), though the chemistry between Corea and Kujala (here on soprano sax) is surprisingly poor. Again And Again isn’t a fusion concept album and it doesn’t quite fit into Corea’s early 80s classical phase. It’s two sides of a multi-faceted artist captured at a moment in time with one of his less ostentatious outfits, a pair of pleasant excursions to interesting places.
Kronomyth 38.0: STRINGS ATTACHED. Yet another collaboration with vibraphonist Gary Burton, this time with a conspicuous classical string quartet in tow. Lyric Suite For Sextet looks and sounds like an ECM record: cerebral, atmospheric, depressing, cold (which, I realize, is more of a progression than a list of qualities). It would be simple enough to dismiss this as so much notiness if it weren’t for passages in “Waltz” where the piano and vibraphone are sublime together, and the entirety of “Brasilia,” which is simply one of the prettiest melodies that Chick has ever recorded. The idea of Corea as a modern classical composer isn’t unthinkable; jazzical (or would it be clazzical?) music has existed since Ellington. But this music is of the noisy modern variety (think Frank Zappa), with an overuse of dramatic tension to fill in the spaces. The third and fourth movements, for example, seem like little more than protracted exclamation points to me (who, we’ve already established, is an authority on nothing). I’ve dusted this album off periodically over the years, mostly when I’m in the mood for a challenge, and usually end up playing “Brasilia” a few more times before putting the record back on the shelf for another year or two. It’s not the first, second, fifth, tenth Chick Corea album you need to own, and probably not the first Corea/Burton collaboration you need either (Crystal Silence would seem the logical choice). And yet I’m rather protective of these exotic animals in my musical bestiary. We say we come to the look at the lions, but stare longest at the animals that are strangest.
Kronomyth 43.0: ELECTRIOCITY. A new chapter for Chick, who takes two supremely talented youngsters under his wing and leads them flying through some spirited fusion music. This, their debut album (and first for label GRP), could be seen as a return to RTF’s old stomping grounds except that here Corea is the master, Patitucci and Weckl the students. The record follows a loose concept concerning life in Elektric City (an analogy for our own world), like most cities harboring both temptation and salvation. The playing is superlative as you’d expect; Corea remains expressive and entertaining even behind an array of electronic machines, while Patitucci and the unconventional Weckl show flashes of real fire. The trio also receives some help from guest guitarists Carlos Rios and Scott Henderson. If you’re wondering why the album rates an average orange (oh, he’s color coding them now), it’s because so few fusion albums really get under my skin. I’ve listened to this record at least two dozen times, and by now I look for the same payoffs: the lively “Got A Match?” with its shades of Birdland, and the two exotic bookends on side two, “No Zone” and “India Town.” The rest of the record is good, but it doesn’t affect me the way a Romantic Warrior does. To its credit, The Chick Corea Elektric Band benefits from a consistent musical vision. Corea albums from the late ‘70s could often hop around restlessly between classical, traditional and fusion jazz, but this is pure electric/electronic fusion from beginning to end. If you enjoy fusion for itself (or think everything by Weather Report is brilliant) than you should check out at least one Elektric outing (preferably one featuring Eric Marienthal). This is otherwise an auspicious start, suggesting that as Weckl and Patitucci develop they might themselves complete the cycle from students to masters.
Kronomyth 53.0: A GRAND TIME ALONE. This is Chick Corea alone at the grand piano, chewing up such classics as “Someone To Watch Over Me,” “Stella By Starlight,” “Lush Life” and “Smile,” and spitting them back in his own notey and Latin-accented idiom. For Chick’s fans, Expressions is tantamount to Bryan Ferry’s tin pan alley albums: revisionist and reverent and idiosyncratic at once. After fifty-plus albums, most of them in a group setting, it’s hard to get jazzed about Chick Corea playing oldies on a piano. Some of the songs sparkle, others are spikey and hard to swallow (e.g., “Monk’s Mood”), many of them could have been extemporized from sheet music for all I know. Artists usually make albums like this when they’re put out to pasture and left to ruminate on their place in music’s history. Dedicated to Art Tatum, Expressions may well make the case for Corea as a successful student of Art who added his own percussive sensibilities and dramatic/romantic flourishes to the music. Honestly, I hardly listen to a lot of Art Tatum, so I couldn’t say for myself where the two styles intersect. I do listen to a lot of Chick Corea, and Expressions is a departure from his usual fusion of Latin, jazz and rock. This is the sophisticated album of bop meets black tie that so many jazz artists seem to make eventually. Of course, you could go to the original source (Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell, Bill Evans) if you were really in the mood for piano jazz. For me, Corea will always be an electric player who grew a little long in the ivory tooth when behind the acoustic piano. That said, Corea’s fans will no doubt find it interesting to hear their idol tackle the classics, including his own “Armando’s Rhumba.” Okay, so chances are you already own three or four versions of “Armando’s Rhumba” already.