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"Miles was pulling the band in the direction of a more fixed rhythm, a rock kind of music, which was the opposite of where I wanted to go rhythmically," reminisces Corea. "My influences at the time were players like Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor, and John Coltrane--musicians who were experimenting with even freer form."
The brave new influence waiting in the wings was avant-garde jazz, or free jazz, a seemingly anything-goes style even king innovator Miles slammed as being too far out. Corea and bassist Dave Holland left Miles for the open fields of free jazz.
Corea and Holland formed a quartet called Circle in 1970, built on the wacko alto sax of Anthony Braxton (who titled his compositions with mathematical diagrams no less puzzling than most of his honking) and some serious piano stretching by Corea. While the squealing and keyboard rape made for meaty dialogue among the band members, Corea noticed the music was clearing out the concert halls faster than a fire alarm. The pianist had found an important new face but was devastated to find few takers.
After a brief stint with saxophonist Stan Getz, where he met bassist Stanley Clarke and percussionist Airto Moreira, Corea was ready to bring attention to one of his own projects.
"I realized I needed to work on making contact with an audience," Corea says. "I had spent years developing certain musical techniques, but the one technique I had never paid much attention to was performance. My formation of the Return to Forever band, and the guiding principle behind every band since, has been to get my message across to people in a way that creates a powerful performance."
Return to Forever gradually grew from the feather-light Latin feel supplied by percussionist Airto and vocalist Flora Purim to the later inclusion of the Evelyn Woods of Speed Guitar, Al Dimeola. Even today, fifteen years later, the group's boldest album, Romantic Warrior, still conveys an eerie medieval aggressiveness that present-day metal bands only attempt with loin thrusts and chain-mail codpieces.
But Corea kissed off the bucks of the lucrative jazz-rock scene when he disbanded Return to Forever in '75. He felt the group had become an electronic effects show at the music's expense.
Corea's style hopping increased. He leaped among solo piano efforts, electric ensembles, works with a string quartet and acoustic duet albums. The dizzying flurry of Corea's different faces lasted a full ten years, with each release only vaguely like the last. Then came the Elektric band.
Five years later, that band still exists. But a new persona, the Akoustic Band, has also emerged from the restless Corea. The Elektric Band's bassist John Patitucci and new drummer Dave Weckl turn off the juice and join an unplugged Chick for concerts and albums filled with jazz standards. The Acoustic Chick is sounding more than a little like his old inspiration Bud Powell. There are no apologies from Chick for dropping the wattage.
"A return to a straight piano sound is for me both traditional and something I love very, very much. And in that form I find a lot of freedom and fun and inspiration."
The opening cut of the new Akoustic Band Alive album "On Green Dolphin Street" slyly introduces a solo Corea who momentarily flaunts his heady ideas with a weightless right-hand treble, only seconds later to be flanked by the pounces of Patitucci and Weckl. Chick plays the smart stuff while these guys pound and tear with style.
Members of the Elektric Band stated in last September's Jazziz magazine that they live in fear of the day Corea will pull the plug on their band. There's no reason to think the Akoustic Band would be any more secure. No doubt someday Chick will pull another Phantom of the Opera move and yank off his present musical mask. Audiences and band members who thought they had finally pegged the real Corea will scream in vain as he once again digs into free-jazz piano slamming, or another tribute to his early classical love Bela Bartok. Like all worthy jazzmen, he returns to his influences and plays what he knows. "Styles don't necessarily have to follow a plodding line of development over twenty years," he emphasizes. "It's possible to take techniques and styles and mix them all up, turn them around and sift through them. You just really have to come around to giving yourself the permission."
Chick Corea Akoustic Band will perform at Scottsdale Center for the Arts on Friday, April 5, and Saturday, April 6. Showtime is 8 p.m.
Could Corea be the ultimate narcissist, needing to please everyone?
He soon found that jazz and classical music were splitting him in half. Styles don't have to follow a plodding line of development. Someday Chick will pull another Phantom of the Opera and yank off his present musical mask.
Corea kissed off the bucks when he disbanded Return to Forever.
The dizzying flurry of Corea's different faces lasted ten years.