Corea’s Electronica ‘Experiment’ Lights Up Blue Note NYC


Chick Corea, seen here performing at the Blue Note in New York on Oct. 27 as part of his 75th birthday residency.

(Photo: Dino Perucci)

On Nov. 10, Chick Corea continued his 75th birthday celebration at the Blue Note in New York with what is expected to be the most experimental outing of his eight-week run comprising 80 shows, 60 musicians and 15 lineups.

Earlier in the residency, Corea performed with his Elektric Band, a Miles Davis tribute with fellow alums and the Leprechaun Band (featuring players from his 1976 album The Leprechaun).

But for a two-night presentation dubbed “Experiments in Electronica,” Corea shot for the extremes, piloting his band—drummer Marcus Gilmore, Taylor McFerrin on keyboards and wordless vocals and collaborating for the first time with Yosvany Terry on alto saxophone, clarinet and percussion—into the unknown.

To begin the set, Corea first asked how many people in the audience were from Manhattan. A dozen hands went up—as compared to the three hands that went up when he played the Oct. 26 Davis tribute.

Corea said that playing in Manhattan, where he lived from 1959–’77, was of utmost importance for his birthday bash. (He officially turned 75 on June 12.)

Corea then introduced the set by previewing what the sold-out audience was going to hear: “We’ll be playing in a way where we’ll be improvising together all the way through,” he said. “We’ll be making it up and you won’t recognize any of the songs because this is all new.”

So, without a set list, Corea began the search for improvisational unity among his bandmates. He admitted to being fascinated with electronica of late, especially in regard to advanced keyboard technology, and to that end, he played a Yamaha Montage 8 mounted with a Moog Voyager, and he kept a Mac laptop perched close by.

When they launched, Corea looked a bit tentative. He checked the computer screen and tested out the buttons and delays, but eventually honed in on a drone sound that Terry sang over while Gilmore set up a groove.

Corea joined in with line fragments, bouncing into the groove for the liftoff. Due to the Blue Note’s intimate confines, fans could clearly see Corea communicating with his team as they were in search mode.

The keyboardist bent notes with his delay, pounced out chunky chords and followed with a speedy two-hand ripple across the electric spectrum. He looked to Terry to push the energy level on the alto, responding to the saxophonist’s wailing. The constant chugging eventually led to the climax, a surge of notes that fell into quietude.

The rush moved into the romantic as Corea explored different synthesized textures and painted lush colors, Gilmore keeping the groove in motion all the while.

At one point, Corea moved to the acoustic piano to sketch out circular figures with his left hand while his right hand took single-note flights of melody on the Montage 8.

The tempo accelerated as Corea delivered a rough-hewn rhythm played inside the piano box with heavy effects. The instrument sounded sandpapery, and the intensity heightened. Terry came in on clarinet to smooth it over while Corea picked up on the reedist’s motif. It was as if he were taking Terry’s lines and sketching them into a composition. (This show was recorded, and it seems likely that some of the improvised session could yield new songs to be added into one of Corea’s multifarious projects.)

With all the technology on hand, Corea could revel in a sandbox of plugged-in toys. He adapted the sounds to fit his moods and inclinations, at times taking on the aesthetic of a horn-heavy “soul” sound, at others invoking a dark basso mood.

At one point, Corea even took it outside the machinery and clapped in rhythmic support as the band discovered a groove he liked.

After 40 minutes on excursion No. 1 that ended quietly, tune No. 2 began with McFerrin performing a skittering wordless vocal sketch of pops, clicks and rhythmic rumbles. Cast in a hip-hop glow, the performance contained all the mastery of McFerrin’s father, Bobby, who has also collaborated with Corea.

Corea followed on the Yamaha, and before long the rhythm caught flame. The band stretched into a playful mode highlighted by Corea sprinting across the keys, bending notes, booming delays.

The music reached arena-type intensity, with sax wailing, drums rolling and cymbals splashing, an avant crosshatching of sounds.

It all came with a sense of urgency and a taste of chaos that resolved in an otherworldly peace. So ended Corea’s first electronica expedition of the evening. He was smiling when he left the stage.

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