Fuse Jazz Review: Chick Corea and Gary Burton Set Off A Fiery “Hot House”

Chick Corea and Gary Burton were celebrating their recent disc, Hot House, which they said was meant to recall the sixties, when the two were starting their careers. But the sixties were never quite like this.

Chick Corea and Gary Burton: Hot House Tour with the Harlem String Quartet. Presented by the Celebrity Series. Symphony Hall, Boston, MA, October 21.

By Michael Ullman.

Just before the exuberant, energized, two and a half hour concert closed, Chick Corea brought out his wife, singer Gayle Moran, who was, as her husband told us, the only singer to have performed both with the groups Return to Forever and the Mahavishnu Orchestra. Before singing a song she wrote for Corea, praising his eyes and general demeanor, she enthused that the music she had just heard was performed by two “home-grown geniuses.”

Genius isn’t a word to throw around, except perhaps by spouses. What the grateful audience heard, though, was the astonishing instrumental virtuosity of vibist Burton and pianist Corea. The pair played distinctively original, usually oblique, arrangements by Corea of jazz classics and originals, the musicians’ performances the result of an unrivaled empathy: their ideas seemed to dance from one to another. Their music is rarely if ever somber: there are no hints of tragedy. Instead, they make everything sparkle, even chestnuts such as Jobim’s “Chega de Saudade,” which they dedicated to their former boss Stan Getz.

Corea and Burton were celebrating their recent disc, Hot House (Concord Records), which they said was meant to recall the sixties, when the two were starting their careers. The title number, though, was written by Tadd Dameron and made famous by Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie in the 40s. Corea made the connection for us: the first time he was on stage at Symphony Hall, he was with Gillespie. The duo played Corea’s flamenco tune “Alegria” after Burton blithely explained that the piece is in twelve and that he would represent the guitar and Corea the flamenco dancer. (They started by pounding at the body of the piano and clapping.)

The highlight of the show for this listener was their “Round Midnight” with the Harlem String Quartet. Corea’s arrangement began in a disorienting fashion, through which hints of Thelonious Monk’s familiar melody emerged. The classic tune was coherent, but it took the form of bluesy single notes rather than Monk’s percussive aggressiveness. Burton intruded to state his version of Monk and went on to play an unaccompanied solo that seemed to say everything that could be said about the piece: it slid into a seemingly final ending. Corea responded with a buzzing tremolo in the bass, a kind of disturbing rumble which he moved upwards before playing a brilliant two-handed solo of his own. It turned out there was more to say about “Round Midnight,” and these musicians expressed it with an originality that remained respectful of Monk’s composition.

Throughout the evening, theirs was a lyricism under pressure, a poetry that almost had to fight its way on stage given how the duo embraced oblique, sometimes dissonant passages that seemed not merely to refresh but to revolutionize the bossa nova, bebop, and even the pop of Paul McCartney, whose “Eleanor Rigby” was miraculously performed without any of the customary bathos. For the second half, the duo was joined by the Harlem String Quartet, who played, among other things, two movements of Corea’s quartet, which he entitled “Adventures of Hippocrates.” They came back with the pianist’s arrangement for quartet and the duo of his “Mozart Goes Dancing.” The sixties were never quite like this.

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