|Chick Corea, Celebrating With Friends
Published: 12 - 12 - 2001 , Late Edition - Final , Section E , Column 1 , Page 3 NEW YORK TIMES
By BEN RATLIFF
Chick Corea's continuing 60th-birthday celebration at the Blue Note --he will have played 18 nights by Dec. 23, in 9 different bands -- is distinguished by a productive, happy informality.
Mr. Corea expresses his virtuosity much as B. B. King does, or Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan did. He luxuriates onstage, as if at a banquet with witty friends. The scope of his three-week run is typical of the way he approaches music: dexterously, experimentally, with delighted hunger.
On Thursday he reconvened the trio that recorded the 1968 album ''Now He Sings, Now He Sobs,'' with the bassist Miroslav Vitous and the drummer Roy Haynes. It's a band that has rarely appeared since; that record, the second in Mr. Corea's career as a bandleader, is still a talisman for jazz pianists in its restive sense of play and in its presentation of compositions like Mr. Corea's ''Matrix'' and ''Windows,'' which have both become standards.
So the gig caused a fair amount of anticipation, which was immediately dispelled by the band. Mr. Corea and Mr. Haynes began by tapping microphones in a polyrhythm. They weren't doing a concept; it was a lark.
The band played a few compositions from the album, including ''What Was.'' (Mr. Corea announced that the band had never played it live before, and the trio proceeded to run through it with fluency, as if the members had it in their blood.) ''Matrix,'' in all its headlong, segmented complexity, closed the set. In the middle, they rooted around in two pieces by Thelonious Monk.
You can observe, almost in relief, what sort of pianist Mr. Corea is when he turns to Monk. His touch is light and bounding, unlike Monk's heavy, percussive feeling. Where Monk achieved so much by implication, with relatively open harmonies and easy tempos that gathered tension simply by his stating a little-adorned melody, Mr. Corea is fascinated by speed, ornament and fireworks. But they're logical fireworks; as with Art Tatum, the coherence of his improvised phrases becomes especially impressive, given their alarming length.
Mr. Haynes was formidable, hitting hard and letting space trickle inside his rhythms. The demon hi-hat improvisations he played on the 1968 record were replaced by simpler, more resounding combinations. He accomplished a great deal just by hitting his sticks together for stretches or clacking them on the drum rims.
Miroslav Vitous played strong, resonating, melodic bass, grounding all the airborne fluttering of the piano notes.