Jazz Album Reviews: Strong Discs from Pianist Chick Corea and Bassist Eric Revis
By Steve Feeney
A pair of beauties: an Eric Revis quintet album and a solo excursion from Chick Corea.
Slipknots Through a Looking Glass, Eric Revis with with Chad Taylor, Kris Davis, Darius Jones and Bill McHenry. (Pyroclastic Records)
I didn’t fully catch on to the powerful music of Eric Revis until I heard his 2016 album Crowded Solitudes (Clean Feed). With a trio filled out by Kris Davis on piano and Gerald Cleaver on drums, the bassist played as if he were generating a whirlwind, pushing hard at the edges of post-bop-and-beyond confines in a highly compelling way. Of course, Revis is also known to power up the Branford Marsalis Quartet, but on this trio disc he was really stepping out.
Now, Revis has come forward with a quintet disc that broadens the conversation begun in the earlier recording. Slipknots Through a Looking Glass brings back Davis, this time with drummers Chad Taylor or Justin Faulkner, and adds Darius Jones on alto sax and Maine’s own Bill McHenry on tenor sax.
The press materials for the disc lean heavily on Revis’s dedication to “conceptualism.” But it’s the organic energy on display here that sells me on the disc. A nimble mix of minimalist eddies and expressionistic rapids mark another fine musical excursion for the 53-year-old bassist.
“Baby Renfro” sets up a Steve Coleman-esque funk bottom, with the leader’s bass firmly seconded by Davis’s inside-the-piano taps. The horns alternately chirp and snort out a sort of fanfare as the piece’s infectious meter keeps your head bobbing.
“SpÆ” ripples and pulses with Taylor’s mbira tinklings and Davis’s taps before the leader’s bowed stretches give way to a pleasant sense of journey. “Earl & the Three-Fifths Compromise” is a slow, noirish rumination punctuated by Taylor’s hard thumps and a two-sax conversation about what sounds like an excruciating slinky mystery. “Shutter,” a Jones composition, is relentless in its drive toward a solo by the composer that takes things decidedly outside of conventional tonality.
The saxophonists gently follow each other around the melody of the leader’s “ProByte,” while McHenry’s “When I Become Nothing” offers a dense ensemble approach that ends with a quirky march off into the sonic void.
The leader’s “Vimen” is the killer cut of the disc — at least to these ears. Davis enthusiastically returns to the skitterish energy I relished on the Clean Feed disc, while Revis and Taylor add to the rhythmic churn before the horns enter. Jones again tries to blow his horn inside-out while McHenry gradually assembles fragments of ideas that lead the way to a collective moment. This is the track I’d love to hear performed live.
Eric Revis deserves and rewards continued attention.
Note: FoGoArts has loaded a series of mesmerizing videos on YouTube to match each tune on the album.
Chick Corea Plays (Concord Jazz)
From post-bop to fusion, with dips into the classical realm, Chelsea, MA, native Armando Antonio “Chick” Corea (b. 1941) has been a fixture on the big-time jazz scene for over half a century. Gifted with fleet fingers and an even quicker mind, the energetic pianist has covered an enormous expanse of musical ground with few fumbles.
Following Trilogy 1 and 2, two masterful trio releases featuring the pianist with Christian McBride (bass) and Brian Blade (drums), Corea’s latest for the Concord Jazz label is a solo acoustic outing that delves into many of his musical inspirations and showcases what he can do with them. Recorded, pre-pandemic, at “a few recent concerts” in Europe and the US, this two-disc set is filled with Corea’s distinctive brand of pianistic exuberance.
Early on Plays, Corea tells the audience that he enjoys combining works by seemingly disparate composers. The idea is to set up a dialogue, as if they anachronistically “sat down to have a talk.” After playfully asking for a bit of vocal harmonizing from the crowd (he later has members join him at the keyboard and improvises musical portraits of others), Corea offers up some of the sweet symmetries found in the Adagio from Mozart’s Sonata in F. The romantic strains of Gershwin’s “Someone to Watch Over Me” follow. In the softened parlor light of Corea’s imagination, Wolfgang and George hang together, maybe sipping drinks.
Then comes another provocative pairing: a sonata movement from the jazz lover’s friend, Baroque composer Domenico Scarlatti, is followed by a rhythmically rich and lavishly ornate version of Jerome Kern’s “Yesterdays.” Corea goes on to match Bill Evans’s “Waltz for Debby” with Antônio Carlos Jobim’s “Desafinado.” The pianist may have both tonal and personal reasons for finding analogies between such different pieces. But his performances are not idiosyncratic, given the warm, congenial pulses emitted by theses two mid-20th-century classics.
From the beginning of his career, Corea has paid homage to the music of Thelonious Monk. On Plays, he offers sparkling renditions of “Pannonica,” “Trinkle Tinkle,” and “Blue Monk,” bringing out the echoes of “early jazz” in Monk’s work as well as its expression of a modern sensibility. Corea has lived with these tunes for decades and his continuing fascination is audible as he affectionately tinkers with them. This veteran improvisor is dedicated to making the listener a part of the experience: as the improvisation goes along you are invited, from moment to moment, to think about where the tune started from and where it is going.
Original compositions and improvisations fill most of the second disc. “The Yellow Nimbus” is dedicated to Corea’s longtime friend and collaborator, the late Spanish guitarist Paco De Lucia. An Iberian influence is filtered through modernist harmonies: the result is a rich and passionate celebration of life.
The pianist finishes with eight selections from his book of “Children’s Songs.” Some audible shuffling of sheet music between these pristine performances only slightly distracts from their radiant evocation of the innocent — if not always simple — spirit of childhood.
Contributions from the pens of Chopin, Scriabin, and Stevie Wonder fill out this excellent opportunity to revisit the wonders of Chick Corea when he performs before a live audience.
Steve Feeney is a Maine native and attended schools in Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts. He has a Master of Arts Degree in American and New England Studies from the University of Southern Maine. He began reviewing music on a freelance basis for the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram in 1995. He was later asked to also review theater and dance. Recently, he has added BroadwayWorld.com as an outlet and is pleased to now contribute to Arts Fuse.