Ageless Corea & Gadd Dazzle at Blue Note in NYC

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Luisito Quintero (left), Chick Corea, Steve Wilson, Steve Gadd, Lionel Loueke and Carlitos Del Puerto performed a Sept. 19–30 residency at the Blue Note in New York.

(Photo: C. Taylor Crothers, Courtesy of Chick Corea Productions)

It’s not clear whether Art Blakey intoned his famous dictum, “Music washes away the dust of everyday life,” back when Chick Corea played with the Jazz Messengers in the mid-1960s. But on Sept. 19, a day in New York City when apocalyptic events—a Caribbean hurricane, a Mexican earthquake and a Strangelovean speech by the U.S. President at the United Nations—dominated the headlines, Corea, 76, applied that principle at the Blue Note on the first night of a two-week run with the new band that he co-leads with drummer Steve Gadd. The two have been good friends since 1966, when Corea, just off the road with Blakey, played a month-long gig in Rochester, New York, Gadd’s hometown, at the invitation of his Blakey bandmate Chuck Mangione.

Having reconvened after an end-of-August sojourn in Japan, the band—Lionel Loueke, guitar and vocals; Steve Wilson, alto and soprano saxophones and flute; Carlitos Del Puerto, bass; and Luisito Quintero on an array of percussion instruments—would move on to a two-month sojourn through the States, South America and Europe.

Each of the Blue Note’s 200 seats was occupied. Many attendees had been fans of both musicians since the early 1970s, when Corea and Gadd played together in the first electric edition of Return To Forever, and recorded such breakthrough Corea albums as My Spanish Heart, The Leprechaun, The Mad Hatter and Friends.

“We’re going to rehearse for you now,” Corea said, before launching the opening fanfare of “Night Streets,” which first appeared on My Spanish Heart. As they would do for the next 90 minutes, Gadd and Quintero created inexorable drum chants, complemented by Del Puerto and Loueke, shifting the grooves from section to section as the solos progressed—first Corea, melodic on the keyboard; then Wilson with a vertiginous soprano solo; then Loueke with much skronk; then Corea recapitulating at a more moderate level, before he picked up a cowbell to accompany the final chant.

More rehearsal seemed needed for “Serenity”—a Bill Evans-esque ballad from a forthcoming Corea/Gadd album—on which the composer switched to acoustic piano (Del Puerto played upright), as Gadd on brushes and Quintero on several instruments sound-painted a mellow samba flow that complemented Wilson on flute, a vocal by Loueke and Del Puerto’s solo.

Also in the set list (and from the forthcoming album) was a John McLaughlin piece called “Chick’s Chums,” which the iconic guitarist performed with Corea last November during his 75th birthday celebration at the Blue Note, where he performed with 15 different bands over. two-month period. On this night, Gadd set up a N’awlins parade beat to frame Corea’s funky keyboard groove, each stroke so clearly articulated that you could focus just on him if you wanted to. But it would have been a shame not to soak in the catchy hook, which inspired a multi-hued synth solo by Corea, a deeply soulful soprano solo by Wilson and some fiery shredding by Loueke in duo with Gadd.

“The time zips by real quick,” Corea said, acknowledging that an hour had already passed. “We’re going to conclude with this piece.” A collective groan arose. “It’s a really long piece,” Corea joked.

Attending to his synth, he uncorked an ominously sci-fi opening to the song “Return To Forever,” complemented by aleatoric sounds from Loueke and from Wilson on flute, abstract expressionist rhythm timbre from Quintero and whispering brushwork by Gadd, who code-switched to deep funk as Corea triggered a percolating vamp. Loueke sang to his line as he crescendoed and decrescendoed. There followed another fanfare, then a luminous soprano solo goosed by Corea’s Monkish interpolations. After another buildup, Corea danced through a kinetic keyboard solo, fueled by 71-year-old Gadd’s unrelenting energy.

Corea acknowledged the hollers for an encore. Gadd (brushes) and Quintero established a rolling samba feel as Corea developed an abstract overture on piano, gradually dropping hints of “Spain” before stating the theme about five minutes in. Wilson soloed ebulliently on alto, traded ideas with Loueke, then gave way for exchanges between the co-leaders. After a few moments of call-and-response with the crowd, the first of the fortnight’s 24 sets was done. DB