by Tony Frankel on October 6, 2019

in Music,Theater-Los Angeles



The first time I saw Chick Corea play was at Disneyland on the Tomorrowland Stage in the mid-1970s. I was entranced watching the solo pianist with brown afro and mustache, as he was offering a type of jazz I had never heard before. My upbringing consisted of mostly big band and swing, so when I heard one of my favorite songs, Sammy Fain’s theme to Disney’s Alice in Wonderland, played with a jazz waltz and the kind of gorgeous harmonics that would make Debussy envious, I was hooked.

Last night, over four decades later, Corea — along with his Trilogy partners double bassist Christian McBride and drummer Brian Blade — arrived at Royce Hall on the UCLA campus to glide over somewhat familiar territory (the trio released a 2013 three-CD album of live recordings from around the world). The extremely receptive audience was happy to repeat short phrases after Corea plucked them out on piano, phrases which were used in the first of 10 songs (including encores) in this 100-minute set (“After we tune up, we’d like to tune you up A440, too,” the master said). It was here that the indefatigable McBride — who just came from being a superstar at the Monterey Jazz Festival last weekend — proved why he’s one of the best in the biz by pluckin’ on down the avenue super fast.

Things came full circle for me when the second tune, a tribute to Bill Evans and Miles Davis, was none other than Alice in Wonderland. Bits of that joyful jazz waltz were still there and shades of Evans’ trademarks — the compact left-hand voicings, harmonic and rhythmic innovations, the locked hands technique — could be noted. Missing for me was the intro of the melody first so that we could than understand the magic licks that emanated throughout the gorgeous work. Evans may have died at 51, but he was among the most influential jazz pianists of the last six decades, and Corea’s “In a Sentimental Mood” perfectly captured Evans’ introspective style.

Monk’s “Crepuscule for Nellie” is from the boys’ latest CD, Trilogy 2, released this weekend. This easy listening selection, followed by another Monk tune from the CD, “Work,” epitomized the group’s perfect synchronicity, the love of what they do, and a distinctive traditional jazz roots sound. There was no electric avant-garde fusion here, just an unadulterated jazz trio that feels cozy but still adventurous. Nothing comes close to seeming rehearsed or ostentatious. And all three looked at each other more than their instruments.

Corea is a classicist as well as a jazz pioneer, and tonight he invited Giuseppe Domenico Scarlatti to the mix. They put together two compositions “you would think have nothing to do with each other.” While Scarlatti wrote 550 piano sonatas, Chick said playfully, “We’re just gonna play one.” After some traditional plucking on the piano strings, making the vibrations sound like Scarlatti on harpsichord, Corea’s composition “The Spanish Song” gave McBride the go-ahead for a swinging solo.

The perfect sound balance continued with “Fingerprints,” based on a lick Corea wrote as a tribute to Wayne Shorter’s “Footprint.” It began with a rolling thumping and always surprising drum solo — Blade is — that led to Chick’s syncopated clapping, a cranking Christian, and a blazing Brian, who is a great improviser but never shows off.

I must say the most jaw-dropping aspect was the energy emanating from the stage, especially from Corea, who looks amazing at 78. How awesome that he’s playing even better now than that night long ago in Disneyland.

photos by Reed Hutchinson/CAP UCLA

Trilogy: Chick Corea, Christian McBride, Brian Blade
UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance
Royce Hall, 340 Royce Dr
played October 3, 2019
for future events, call 310.825.2101 or visit CAP UCLA

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