It is no secret that jazz often brings a feeling of pretension to it — musicians create and listeners consume a seemingly formless sound that is often deemed esoteric and inaccessible to an outside viewer. However, if there were any feelings of inaccessibility inside the Winspear Centre during Chick Corea’s Edmonton Jazz Festival performance, those notions were quickly laid to rest as Corea walked on stage — wearing worn out runners, baggy jeans and Hawaiian shirt.
If there is anyone that has reserved the right to act pretentiously, it’s Chick Corea. He is known as one the top jazz piano players, not only for his work with the likes of Miles Davis but for his own jazz fustion projects, Return To Forever and Chick Corea Elecktric Band. Despite his stature, however, Corea is breaking the mold — opting to present his originals and interpretations of jazz standards without grandiloquence.
There, in all his grandeur, sat an unpretentious Corea who proceeded to kick off the jazz festival with solo piano arrangements of Some Time Ago and La Fiesta. He interrupted his set briefly to talk about his future plans, and how everywhere he seems to go — including the Winspear — seems to be frigid and necessitates a sweater. Perhaps this observation can be explained by the idea that jazz has the image of being a cool artform.
Corea made just about everything he played look easy. He added his own stylings to pieces by Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk. The latter showcased Corea navigating through a suite that consisted of Monks Dream, Hackensack and Trinkle Trinkle, and snippets from other songs as well. From there, the showcase took on one of many highlights when Corea starting pressing his fingers on the strings inside of the piano while he played the keys, muting the sound and manipulating it to add an avant-garde tone to the performance.
As Corea returned to the stage for an encore of his own piece Spain, which involved many arpeggios, he coaxed the audience to sing back phrases before bidding adieu. While the near sell-out crowd demanded more, the decision to stop at around an hour an half was wise, given that the concert was only one man playing piano. It would have grown increasingly harder to keep the audience’s full attention, even for a musician as gifted as Chick Corea.
The audience certainly got their fill. With not only the headlining set but the opener — The Terry Clarke Trio. Clarke quickly informed the crowd he was not “the surgically enhanced country star.” And in their own short set, he played a take on Sonny Rollins’ Freedom Suite that felt smooth yet hot to the touch, providing an excellent start for the evening.
During his set Corea mentioned that his band had several important commitments this summer and the opportunity play a few “practice gigs” in Canada provided the chance to hone his skills. While that may have been the most arrogant phrase the audience was exposed to that night, jazz enthusiasts in Edmonton were more than happy to sit in on Corea’s practice.
Photo supplied by the Edmonton Journal.
— David Falk