If I delay writing, I’ll stall for sure.
Too much information will kill the personal resonance.
What do I do with this Chick-shaped hole?
Attempting to cover a sixty year career is daunting.
… a few of the thoughts tumbling through the Vinyl Connection brain box as the news of Chick Corea’s death hits home.
He was seventy-nine, not old these days. A father and grandfather.
He was a follower of L. Ron Hubbard’s fantasy Scientology cult, but that didn’t seem to help him; his cancer was undiagnosed and of an “unknown” type.
Cancer. Scientology. Shit. Stick with the music.
Chick Corea was a magnificent pianist, an adventurer, a creator, an innovator and a collaborator par excellence. The restlessness of his talent is visible throughout a long career, one that encompassed solo albums, duos, groups, composition, performance and an ever-present love of music.
Chick Corea’s album Return To Forever was the first ECM record I purchased. You can read more about that wonderful disc in a Vinyl Connection post, here. Promptly decamping to Polydor, Corea released Light As A Feather, which feels like a companion piece to Return To Forever. Light As A Feather is a very accessible album, with a couple of gorgeous songs delivered with soaring purity by Flora Purim. (In passing, this would be a great entry point for those curious about Corea’s music.)
From there, this fusion-curious listener pursued Return To Forever (the band), thrilling to the fireworks of Stanley Clarke, Al Di Meola and of course, drummer Lenny White across a trio of astonishing and exciting mid-70s fusion albums.
For fans of progressive fusion, the 1976 Return To Forever album Romantic Warrior is perhaps the pinnacle of the genre. The melodies are complex yet catchy and the playing eye-wateringly good and there are some killer riffs. When Return To Forever re-reformed with premier fusion violinist Jean-Luc Ponty (and brilliant Australian born guitarist Frank Gambale) and announced a tour, I recall hoping there might be a live album in the works. There was—a double CD set plus DVD—but better news was to come. The band (with Lenny White and Stanley Clarke) came to Melbourne and Ms Connection and I saw them in the beautiful Regent Theatre one muggy February night in 2011. Bliss.
We saw Chick live in 2015, too. Playing a duo concert with keyboard legend Herbie Hancock. That concert received its own post, which can be found here.
One of Chick Corea’s most fertile and successful collaboration was with vibraphone master Gary Burton. Their first album together—Crystal Silence—is a work of luminous beauty and ethereal charm. Imagine what balances Hawkwind on the other side of the universe and you might get a hint of the delicate interplay of these two musicians dancing together. It’s a magic captured beautifully on the 2LP live album released by ECM in 1980.
If the Corea/Burton combo floats like the bubbles in a flute of fine champagne, some of Corea’s early piano work is more like a stiff belt of Scotch. A VC favourite is the 1968 trio album Now He Sings, Now He Sobs, the CD re-issue of which includes excellent bonus material. Some of Chick’s free jazz work with Barry Altshul is also worth investigating if that’s your bag.
You know that epigram about how few people bought the first Velvet Underground album, but all of them formed bands? Well there is a well-documented parallel in jazz-rock with almost everyone from the 1970 Miles Davis band shooting off on their own fusion trajectories and multi-handedly creating a new genre of music. Chick Corea plays electric piano on Bitches Brew, toured with Miles (he’s on Live at the Fillmore) and soon after formed Return To Forever. In the 1980s, Corea put together a pair of units, the Elektric Band and, you guessed it, the Akoustic Band. I’m not as familiar with this material, partially because the 70s jazz-rock material is so brilliant it’s where I turn when the mood strikes, and partly because of the eighties sheen on those albums.
Taking a breath, I realise I’ve veered away from personal reminisce into a discography tour. That wasn’t the intention, but perhaps it’s a way of protecting myself from a tide of sadness at the passing of a musician who had a huge role in forming my musical tastes. So let’s not dwell on the loss, but on the legacy. A sprawling catalogue of variety and adventure, of reflection and pretension; of mischief and melancholy, muscle and magic.
Vale, Armando Anthony “Chick” Corea.