Archive for October, 2016

in performance: chick corea trio

chick corea.

chick corea.

“Can you give me an A, please?”

That was Chick Corea’s request last night at Xavier University in Cincinnati as his sold out trio performance with bassist Eddie Gomez and drummer Brian Blade got underway. What the veteran jazz composer and keyboardist, 75, had in mind was something of an audience tune-up. He would execute a series of playful runs on piano – some artfully simplistic, others devilishly treacherous – in hopes the audience would sing his notes back to him. It was an engaging performance icebreaker, for sure – so much so, that Corea employed it again over two hours later during an encore version of perhaps his most recognized tune, “Spain.”

Such was the current reflection of what has always made Corea such an engaging performer – the ability to maintain a sense of playfulness even as his music dived deep into stormy compositional waters. But this acoustic concert was lighter in tone than the fusion and heavy bop-driven exercises that defined much of his playing through the decades. The initial skirmish, for example, opened out into a summery arrangement of Cole Porter’s “Easy to Love” than was anchored, as many of Corea’s own works were, by a sparse bass melody that countered piano runs of often delicate construction.

A similar make-up dominated the new Corea original “A Spanish Song,” where the music revealed an overall darker hue. But decades old works like “500 Miles,” “Humpty Dumpty” and “Sicily” emphasized a broadly animated trio sound that bordered on the exuberant.

Speaking of which, Corea benefited greatly from his onstage allies in summoning the show’s fanciful feel. Gomez, 72, spent 11 years as bassist for another jazz piano giant, Bill Evans. Last night, he brought a density and dexterity to the music, whether it was through the spacious grace of the Evans staple “Waltz for Debby” or the rugged bowed soloing that ignited “Darn That Dream.” Blade, 46, may have been a generation removed from his bandmates, but his sense of swing was potently exact throughout the performance, especially with the tasteful drive he set up under Corea’s piano leads during “Alice in Wonderland.”

Toss all of that cross generational jazz intellect together and, sure, one didn’t mind giving Corea an A at all.


in performance: gunwale

gunwale, from left: dave rempis, albert wildeman and ryan packard. photo by dan mohr.

gunwale, from left: dave rempis, albert wildeman and ryan packard. photo by dan mohr.

As has been the case with several Outside the Spotlight concerts through the years, the most arresting aspect to last night’s often explosive set by the Chicago trio Gunwale was the silence as well as the sounds it created.
First, to the music itself. The 45 minute performance last night at the University of Kentucky Niles Gallery was a lesson in dynamics with saxophonist and OTS frequent flyer Dave Rempis at the helm. Split between three improvisational workouts of roughly similar length, the music allowed Rempis equal time for expression on alto, baritone and tenor sax, in that order.
The opening alto piece set the pace, however. It introduced hushed, fractured sax colors along with assorted slaps and scrapes by bassist Albert Wildeman and drummer/electronics manipulator Ryan Packard that proved anything but usual rhythm section fare. Then, about three minutes in, the switch was thrown and the full trio erupted into a furious, almost punkish assault – a blast of turbo swing that emphasized Gunwale’s sense of dramatics as well as dynamics. Then, just as quickly, the music deconstructed again.
The rest of the performance dealt as much with the assembly of the trio’s assorted sounds and temperaments as the final musical (and in some cases, purposely non-musical) statements.
While Rempis was always the focal point, Packard’s bag of electronic effects punctured the trio’s otherwise organic surroundings. In one instance, the drummer let a high frequency electric whine mesh with Rempis’ baritone mischief for a kind of otherworldly Euro-American mash up. At another point, he let the disembodied cone of a speaker reverberate off a snare to create a percussive effect of peculiar acoustic-meets-electric beauty.
But it was what happened at the end of this heavily abstract scrapbook of sound that just about stole the show. After electronics, bass and tenor concluded an engaging slow fade, no one onstage moved. For close to 30 seconds, a silence hung in the room that was so complete that outside campus noises – specifically a marching band drumline practicing in a nearby courtyard – provided what was literally the last musical word.
Rempis remarked afterward that getting a roomful of people in any kind of setting to remain quiet for even a minimal amount of time is difficult. Last night, the silent coda was so natural that you would have thought it was one of the few scripted moments in a performance that otherwise worked off no game plan at all.

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