Category Archives: Chick Corea

Chick Corea Discography

Armando “Chick” Corea was born one year later than Herbie Hancock and initially seemed destined to follow him, as a member of Miles Davis’ outfit and as a Blue Note recording artist. Corea’s Blue Note albums, recorded in his mid 20s, showed a facility for complex composition and a ferociously fast imagination. His first recording, Tones For Joan’s Bones (1968), features horns, but it was in the subsequent trio settings that his early music found its best expression. Of these, the later compilation Circling In (1976) is the best place to start. Corea also recorded several albums as a member of Circle with Barry Altschul, Dave Holland and Anthony Braxton.

In early 1972, Corea released an electric fusion album with a group that consisted of Stanley Clarke, Joe Farrell, Airto Moreira and Flora Purim; the record was called Return To Forever. RTF would become one of the leading voices in the new fusion movement, at its peak consisting of a quartet that featured Corea, Clarke, Lenny White and Al DiMeola. In between RTF releases, Corea continued to release his own recordings, including My Spanish Heart (1976), The Mad Hatter (1978) and collaborations with Hancock and vibraphonist Gary Burton.

Corea’s style is expositional in nature; he’ll introduce a theme, then provide commentary for and against it. There have been a few occasions where I’ve felt the charge of “too many notes” (made famous in the film Amadeus) might have been justly applied to Corea as well. More often however, are the occasions where Corea’s commentary opens new avenues of discovery. Although born and raised in Massachusetts, Corea has always had an affinity for Latin music, which can be heard in his melodies and his solos.

In the 1980s, Corea put RTF to bed and focused on longer jazz/classical compositions including Three Quartets (1981), Lyric Suite For Sextet (1983) and Septet (1985). He also reunited with Miroslav Vitous and Roy Haynes for a pair of albums: Trio Music (1982) and Trio Music Live In Europe (1986). The Eighties were also notable for the introduction of a new fusion group, The Chick Corea Elektric Band (and its later Akoustic incarnation), which introduced listeners to John Pattitucci and Dave Weckl.

In the last two decades, Corea has played the role of the living and very active legend while leading the Akoustic/Elektric band, forming a new band (Origin), releasing solo albums, reviving RTF for a few profitable dates and collaborating with artists as diverse as Bobby McFerrin, Hiromi Euhara, Nicoloas Economou and Stefano Bollani.

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Chick Corea: Tones For Joan’s Bones (1968)

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” features terse phrasing from Corea (shades of Miles) for most of the way, with a nice breakout solo from Farrell. Corea’s piano moves to the fore 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.

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Chick Corea: Now He Sings, Now He Sobs (1968)

Kronomyth 2.0: NOW WE’RE TALKING. I tend to divide Chick Corea’s music into one of three categories: early fusion, early trio music and everything else. Now He Sings. Now He Sobs is the first of the early trio albums, featuring Roy Haynes on drums and Miroslav Vitous on acoustic bass. It’s here that listeners are introduced to the real Chick Corea: the complex writing, the prolix playing, the Latin themes. The opening “Steps – What Was” starts out as intellectual stuff but, midway through, shifts into one of those sublime, timeless Latin melodies that will be instantly recognizable to fans. This and “Now He Sings – Now He Sobs” could be considered the first classic Corea compositions for their blending of melody and complexity. The remaining pieces are notey, daunting, occasionally breathtaking but more often exhausting. Haynes and Vitous adopt unconventional stances throughout the record: Haynes with his rattling rim playing, Vitous with his sticky fingerstyle. What I enjoy about the early trio albums is their general fearlessness and transparency. The listener has the sense that they’re looking over Chick Corea’s shoulder, synchronized with him in the act of creation as new possibilities in the music are revealed, explored, abandoned, revisited. As exciting as that is, there are quite a few passages where it feels like Corea, Haynes and Vitous are off doing their own thing; maybe that’s just an aspect of their artistry that I don’t fully appreciate. Also, while I’m being honest, I’ve always found Miroslav Vitous to be an acquired taste, which I’m still in the process of acquiring. So, in summary, Now He Sings is half of album of classic Corea trio music and half an album of exploratory jazz punctuated by a wonderful question mark (“The Law of Falling And Catching Up”) at the end. In the 1980s, Blue Note repackaged this with the remaining tracks from the original sessions, many of which had turned up on earlier compilations such as Inner Space and Circling In.

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Chick Corea: The Song of Singing (1970)

The reason they call this free jazz is because no one in their right mind would pay to hear a bunch of notes randomly strung together, no matter how talented the people stringing them along. But, on the off chance you’re one of those people who believe this is actual music, you’re in for a double-treat: a free prose review of The Song of Singing. Black gnats in a cloud of anthrax, tracking dust on rose-petal hearts, caught in the pitch of a wounded pine, shrieking in fear to the blind divine. Are they in pain or part of a game? Small and tentative shapes emerge on the verge of an encroaching and swallowing darkness, legs tails and teeth tumble and cavort, it is the midnight of mother nature’s mistakes. The bustle and jostle of brainboxes creating a conflict of frequencies: is there a god, am I falling out of love, did I pay the cable bill this month, why is that person looking at me, can they read my thoughts? I am middle-aged roadkill on the highway of the mind, eviscerated, my mediocrity exposed, a sacrificial stench to the uncaring wheels of modernity. We dance entwined, intermingled, interspersed, our molecules mixed and recomposed, now a mass of skin hair eyes bones protruding, a shoggoth of shared sentiments, love is an unnatural loss of self. You are a gem with a thousand faces, reflecting, refracting, genuflecting, diffracting, exacting, assuming, retuning, demanding, asking, tsking, basking, pushing, blooming, yes, ever-blooming more faces. And then something about a lonely typographer and Nefertiti’s boobies.

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Light As A Feather (1973)

Kronomyth 10.0: THE FIRST PHOENIX RISES, RETURNS. There is, first of all, some heavy Rhodes work ahead of you, all of it under the bright heat of The Sun tarot, where wah-wah petals bloom and breathe, and exotic flora draws the fluted bill of hornbirds (farrell prized for their feathers), darting between tiny flecks of buzz and trill in the moving Air to which the thick kerplunk of bubblebees in silky grottoes do attend, a rich stew of ebullient bass. This sambient air buoys the second ride of the Phoenix, which has caught many a critic’s accolades in its currents. With Corea as its marvelous captain, RTF dances in the dappled sunlight of this new world, as animated exotica moves in dreamy sambanambulance and tiny eruptions of hardened jazz rumble harmlessly through the forest. 500 miles high, the Phoenix soars, light as a feather. It reappears as a dream-image in a child’s mind, carrying only the persistent tick-tock of a clock from the workaday world. It winds through the lively streets of Spain as a spirit, beckoned by the bacchanal of the living. There are the light and lithe rhythms of Airto Moreira, the airy vocals of Flora Purim, the refreshing flute and heated hornwork of Joe Farrell, and the Phoenix would soon find itself light these few original feathers. Then there is the stunning complexity of structure evident in Stanley Clarke’s electric, acoustic and bowed basswork and, greater than all that, the colossal Rhodes of Chick Corea. The captain plays the Rhodes like a lead guitar sometimes, hammering out notes in quick staccato stabs or bending the notes with his wah-wah pedal. Rarely has the instrument sounded so free and expressive, so timeless and beautiful. Light As A Feather is a different animal than the ferocious beast that RTF would later become. Here it’s all sunlight, warmth, bathed in beauty, using its superlative playing as a buttress to support an airier, lighter creation that fuses samba and electric jazz into something exciting and adventurous.

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Stan Clarke: Children of Forever (1973)

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.

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Return To Forever Featuring Chick Corea: Where Have I Known You Before (1974)

Kronomyth 14.0: VULCAN AMAZING. There are some days–let’s call them sumdays for the sake of a lovely argument—when the whole English language is a slippery squid. Words dart, half-glimpsed, in the murky ruins of an Atlantean ampitheatre, furtive ghosts that serve roe-eyed monsters, and I move as in the amniosis* of a dream. (*Not a word, see?) Jazz does this to me. For a gooey handful of sumdays now, I’ve built and torn down monuments to Where Have I Known You Before, all in an effort to capture something that is the very essence of elusion*. The group’s earlier effort, Hymn To The Seventh Galaxy, marked the maiden voyage of the U.S.S. Artieff into space jazz/rock fusion. That album, clever as it was, could be contained in dry prose without suffering too deeply the infirmities of air. WHIKYB is more exotic, almost extraterrestrial, and quickly shrivels up when hauled onto the dry deck of my imagination for examination. At best, I can tell you what I’ve seen in those glimpses: Al DiMeola, the fleet-fingered recruit from the starmaker academy, careening around the opening corner of “Vulcan Worlds” with guns blazing; the surface eruptions of a red sun silhouette against a Lo moon of cool indigo; the alien chatter of sentient matter communicated in popping, bubbling, boiling bass notes; and Captain Chick split into two persons, two worlds, two times and still holding it together. This album is its own monument to a meeting of galactic consequence. The future adventures of the Artieff’s crew would be more amazing still as Al DiMeola, like a certain newt, got better, but even here the young guitarist’s greenness is one more color in a technicolor trip beyond the seventh galaxy.

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No Mystery (1975)

As humor and ignorance go hand in hand, I’ll let the former lead the latter in a little poke at jazz-wise folk… No Mystery plumbs the paradigmatical prog fusion cum Latin jazz that RTF is acronymically known for (noting that in fact it’s not an acronym at all). Paralytic rhythms overtake the funky aspirations of side one, proffered most profusely on Lenny White’s darkly funny “Sofistifunk” and in a suffusion of profusity on the seven-minute “Flight of the Newborn” (with a brief layover in Axesaw and the Keys of Reed). If they don’t get your foot tappin’, try on the metatarsal modalities of Stanley Clarke’s bass on “Dayride” or steeling yourself against the humor of “Excerpt From The First Movement of Heavy Metal.” Oblations to the great funk nation, the first half of No Mystery is a piece of prog fusion history worth preserving. Side two slips into the matador’s suit of My Spanish Heart, a part and yet apart from Mystery’s space spelunking start. The title track is patronymic parlor jazz with a forest scorpion’s sting (having earlier resided underwood in ruth), the two-part “Celebration Suite” a cause for celebration if you enjoyed My Spanish Heart. The seriality of songs is less important than it was on Romantic Warrior, the ability to transhumanize jazz remains as keen. What occurs is a consubtantiation of creative forces, revealing the mysteries of the universe through sound. Ironically, it was L.Ron Hubbard who pointed out that we as human beings let our attention slip out the open window of a large and foreign word, but jazz critics insist on slippin’ ‘em in anyway. No Mystery earned them a Grammy in 1975 for Best Jazz Performance by a Group. Far from vindicating the Grammy selection process, I’ll simply note that even a blind man can pick the right nutshell in an honest game every third time.

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Stanley Clarke: Journey To Love (1975)

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.

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Romantic Warrior (1976)

Let me share with you my secret paramour in the field of fusion: Romantic Warrior. Loosely based on a medieval theme, this is the final installment in a very fruitful collaboration between Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke, Al DiMeola and Lenny White. Each of the four contributes at least one track to the proceedings, with the ever-fertile imagination of Corea assuming the lion’s share at three compositions. Opening up the songwriting leads to the kind of variegated musical vision most often encountered with Weather Report, only better. Heresy, you say? Not having heard this record, you might think that. But listening to Romantic Warrior will lead to a change of heart. As much as fusion bleeds into the progressive landscape, it rarely takes root. This time is different, as RTF blends the two on tracks like “Medieval Overture” (casting the silhouette of no less a titan than Gentle Giant) and “Majestic Dance” (Frank Zappa this time). As happens with most composers, Chick tends to fall into idiosyncratic tendencies. The two-part “Duel of the Jester and the Tyrant,” for example, could just as easily have turned up on My Spanish Heart (where “El Bozo” can claim some kinship with the Jester). But there it would have lacked the grace, the sinew, the inventiveness that the rest of RTF brings to the table. The band doesn’t simply explore progressive rock sounds, they embrace them. That opens the discussion to include wider implications than composition; instead of cramming as many little black notes onto the paper as they can, RTF seems to understand that melody isn’t the enemy. The music that follows is complex but accessible, Protean while serving an aggregate good, sliding between fusion and prog as though it belonged to both worlds. And so you can have a sultry “Sorceress” painted from Lenny White’s perspective, “The Romantic Warrior” ambling on stilts of semi-classical structure, and “The Magician” steeped in mystery as exhibits in the same supernatural gallery. Prog rock fans who fancy themselves amenable to fusion (e.g., anyone with albums by Soft Machine, Bruford, and Brand X in their collection) would do well to take up the standard of Romantic Warrior. The 1990 digital remaster from Columbia/Legacy sounds excellent and features illuminating liner notes from John Swenson.

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