Chick Corea, Christian McBride, Brian Blade
(Barbican Hall, Nov 17th. LJF. Review by Jon Turney)
Amid the many and varied settings in which Chick Corea has plied his keyboards over the decades, he has always returned to the piano trio. The latest edition, first heard in 2010, is hard to reconvene. Christian McBride and Brian Blade are constantly busy. So expectation was high for this early gig on a European tour for the heaviest threesome Corea has convened since he played with Miroslav Vitous and Roy Haynes. The pianist launched the set with unaccompanied piano improvisation, riffing and rippling away, with sparing interpolations from bass and drums slowly thickening the texture.
Corea could keep this kind of thing up for hours, and it isn't his most compelling mode, but after ten minutes or so of this scene-setter they moved into a composed piece - no announcements in this set, but presumably relatively new as sheet music was used - then a minor-themed, Latin-tinged number which hit a fine groove.
By now things were really motoring, Blade whipping up an extraordinary urgent-but-light pulse, McBride locked in, and the three players visibly united in delight. The same delight fell over the audience at this point. Most of the Barbican punters were jigging sidewise in their seats. The smile on Zoe Rahman's face, in the row in front of me, grew wider and wider: master class now definitely in progress.
They stayed on that level for the rest of the set. There was some impressionism, with piano trills, bowed bass and mallets, and a fabulously animated rendition of Monk's Work, with lengthy offerings from bass and drums. Blade was his peerless self throughout, and had something interesting to say on the kit every microsecond, it seemed. McBride was mostly more restrained, contributing his wonderful tone and time. The irresistible comparison with Keith Jarrett's trio did make me wonder what Gary Peacock - who has played with Corea and Blade - would have sounded like, but McBride's reflexes and taste soon dispelled the thought.
Eighty minutes in, Corea did something Jarrett would never do, and took the mike to introduce a surprise guest - Jacqui Dankworth - Corea reminiscing briefly about his friendship with John Dankworth and Cleo Lane, who sang at his wedding. Most singers would be quickly overpowered by this trio. Dankworth wasn't and held the house with a consummate performance of But Beautiful. She stayed for one more song, which finished with some fine vocal improv intertwined with the piano. Then, after lengthy calls for an encore, the trio returned for a warmly good-humoured treatment of All Blues, with final brilliant excursions from McBride and Blade. The house rose as one.
In the afterglow, my feeling was that the drummer, in particular, manages to impart to this threesome something of the lightness of action and the balancing-high-without-a-net feel which are so prominent in his most high profile gig with Wayne Shorter's quartet. Wayne started out with that endlessly rewarding group around a decade ago when he was just shy of 70, the age Corea is now. The piano player hardly needs a late career creative renewal, but he might just have found one anyway, if he can keep these guys on the road more often. Here's hoping...