When visiting an art museum, you can view completed paintings and sculptures, fully appreciating their beauty and the effort the artist spent in creating the work. Viewing the Chick Corea/Christian McBride/Brian Blade trio at Chicago’s Orchestra Hall on October 8 was akin to watching an artist sculpt or paint artwork right before your eyes.
From the beginning, Corea stressed that this tour was about improvisation; he half-jokingly told the near-full house that the trio devised their setlist while sitting in Chicago traffic earlier that day. While Corea, McBride, and Blade appeared casual, as if this were a friendly jam session, their advanced technical skills and ability to play a wide variety of music exemplified their superior technique.
Starting with Kurt Weill’s “This Is New,” Corea impressed with his judicious use of dissonance, the off-center chords somehow working well with the bass and percussion. As the tempo rapidly changed, McBride and Blade made the transition seem easy. Both wore wide grins through this number as well as through virtually the entire concert, displaying how much they clearly enjoyed playing together. Corea’s intricate playing complemented Blade’s dazzling drum solos, with Blade doing the work of multiple drummers as he pounded the skins. McBride’s fingers flew up and down the stand-up bass’s neck, his solo demonstrating his command of the instrument.
The next number, preludes from Alexander Scriabin’s Opus 11, seems like an odd choice for a jazz concert. Yet the song benefited from a jazz arrangement, with Blade using even the sides of the drums and handclaps to establish a Latin rhythm. McBride filled in with subtle yet intricate bass lines, with Corea anchoring the ambitious song. Then the group ventured into more familiar territory with Thelonious Monk’s “Work,” with McBride’s heavier bass lines lending a bluesier tone. Corea played trills, again using dissonance in a sly manner. Perhaps more than any other song, “Work” showed how the trio performs perfectly in sync, Corea injecting subtle fills while McBride and Blade duetted. With just slight nods, the trio communicated with each other as to how to proceed.
The trio’s setlist also included a new Corea composition, “Homage,” which incorporated flamenco elements with a hint of the avant garde. The constantly changing tempo would challenge many musicians, but all three handled the changes with ease. Another Corea composition, 1968′s “Now He Sings, Now He Sobs” (the title song from his highly influential album), allowed Blade to demonstrate his ability to change tempos on a dime. Corea’s hands danced across all the keys, directing the trio with his playing. During his extended solos, Blade seemed to be having a wonderful time; in fact, he was so enthusiastic that a drumstick flew out of his hands, almost careening off the stage as he furiously drummed.
McBride and Blade also showcased their songwriting ability; the trio played McBride’s “Sister Rosa” (named after Rosa Parks), a blues-kissed tune that still incorporated traditional jazz. Conversely, Blade’s “Alpha and Omega” sounded symphonic, with Corea performing quasi-classical piano and McBride wielding a bow to play the bass. During the song, Blade showed how he incorporates various kinds of percussion, using chimes frequently to emphasize the tune’s moodiness.
The last two songs leaned toward hard bop, the trio playing their instruments furiously but with great precision. Judging by the standing ovation at the concert’s end, the audience greatly appreciated their skill and ability to create great art—in this case, musical—right before their eyes. Corea, McBride, and Blade’s enthusiasm was infectious, as the trio obviously love playing together and encouraging one another to play complicated solos. It was a special night, an opportunity to see three musicians at the top of their craft collaborating to play exquisite jazz. Hardcore and casual jazz fans should see the Corea/McBride/Blade Trio so they can experience music played by true masters of the art. Visit Corea’s website for tour information.