CD Review: Chick Corea - Solo Piano: Portraits

Chick Corea – Solo Piano: Portraits
(Concord CJA-35603. CD Review by Andy Boeckstaens)

This 2CD set by Chick Corea – recorded in Quebec - contains several tracks called Chick Talks. During the first, he explains, “I have to begin by getting a feel for this piano....I have no plan for this evening”, so I was prepared for free improvisations and a scholarly lecture. But when Corea says “Welcome to my living room” we are transported from the concert hall to an intimate solo recital that is coloured by his relaxed, conversational introductions.

How Deep is the Ocean? eventually emerges empirically from a collection of apparently unrelated phrases, after which Corea comments, “I don’t know where that came from”. Although there is a lot of improvisation in this piece, all of the other pieces are premeditated. Corea prefaces each batch of tunes with background details and personal reminiscences.

Occasionally it feels as if he is pitching to non-specialist listeners, and some selections seem unadventurous: the section on Thelonious Monk, for example, consists of Round Midnight, Blue Monk and Pannonica, and Bill Evans is represented by the evergreen Waltz for Debby. But when he offers preludes by Scriabin and bagatelles by Bartók, and you realise that he’s choosing to interpret these pieces simply because he loves them.

The portraits that Corea “paints” of members of the audience are, if anything, even more personal because he tries to define the individuals in an improvised solo after inviting them to sit beside him on stage. Tracks are named after the locations in which they were conceived (e.g. Portrait #2 Casablanca, Portrait #1 Vilnius). They are short, but contain meaty and often exploratory material; and to my mind are generally more interesting than Corea’s famous Children’s Songs, nine of which occupy much of the disc. Of course, we don’t see the subjects that inspire these portraits, and therefore the audience’s response, which ranges from mid-tune applause to guffaws, is incomprehensible. An accompanying DVD would perhaps make this altogether more engaging.

Corea’s The Yellow Nimbus (written for Paco de Lucía) is daring and magnificent, yet the pianist is often most distinctive when playing other people’s tunes. Bud Powell’s Dusk in Sandi and Oblivion are fully realised improvisations on substantial pieces by a composer who is nowadays relatively neglected. Pastime Paradise by Stevie Wonder (a friend of Corea’s for 40 years) is also a real highlight that shimmers with melodic joy. Whether throwing in passages of “stride” or an exquisite moment of Wagner, Corea displays peerless technique, freewheeling imagination and great taste throughout Portraits. All in all this is a remarkably beautiful record, and there is no doubt he maintains his place at the pinnacle of modern jazz piano.

We reviewed Chick Corea's Solo recital at the Barbican Hall in May

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