It’s the rare occasion where I attend jazz performance, especially for a review. If I recall correctly, the last one likely involved the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. But it’s entirely possible I have never seen a big band performance. So when I saw the announcement for Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Chick Corea Festival, I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to catch one of the most renowned and influential jazz pianists, one that I’d listened to a bunch, alongside a world class band. Corea had first performed with the JALC Orchestra and their leader Wynton Marsalis at Lincoln Center in 2011. Then, as they did now, the Orchestra drew upon Corea’s rich musical legacy to create arrangements that sounded vital and exciting yet still could herald golden, bygone eras.
By the time I was done capturing images, and almost rubbing shoulders with royalty from Qatar, I sat down to hear the distinct “Crystal Silence”, which featured husband and wife Marcus and Riza Printup on the trumpet and harp respectively. Corea’s supple and stirring piano was only out shown by the glorious chilled solo from Printup towards the end—leading into a swirling and mysterious harp outro.
Before the next song, Marsalis took a moment to thank the important and generous guest in the audience, Sheika Moza bint Nasser of Qatar. Bint Nasser had made a $100 million dollar donation as a first response to the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and she continues charitable work in other areas through the Qatar Foundation. Marsalis gave particular praise to the Educate a Child initiative as he recognized that he grew up in Louisiana with a lot of people “who did not have an education”. Fittingly, the song was “Children’s Song No. 10”, a piece that sounded as if it were lifted right from a children’s tale. It began by developing a forest backstory, from which an effervescent clarinet’s voice soon rose out of the mix as if it was exploring the darkened wood. Careful listening of all the voices, trumpet, trombone and otherwise, might detail the adventurers’ situation, but likely the rest of the pieces in the series are necessary to unravel the mystery (so go find the album Children’s Songs).
Corea closed out the first set with “From Forever”, a piece commissioned by M.I.T. that premiered earlier in the year and is the rare arrangement done by Corea himself. As such, except for some four hand ivory sharing interplay towards the end, Corea sat this one out and conducted the band while allowing the markedly younger Dan Nimmer to shine on the keys.
The second half opened with an arrangement of Return to Forever’s “You’re Everything”, featuring Corea’s wife, Gayler Moran Corea singing the loving lyrics with an inflection that was as light as a feather. This rendition was over 15 minutes long but the vivacious band never let it tire. Already over an hour into their performance, the band chose to cut “Humpty Dumpty” as listed in the program and jumped ahead to “Wigwam”, an arrangement by their drummer. Afterwards came “Tones for Joan’s Bones”, the second arrangement of the evening from Ted Nash. Synchronous horns fused with Corea’s piano forming a classic big band sound. The concluding song, “Straight Up and Down” came with little introduction from Marsalis, but it opened with a strong push by the brass and built into a percussion / piano climax. Once it was all over, the audience rose to their feet to applaud the masterful musicians and likely hoping to see Corea with the Orchestra again soon.
“Windows” arranged by Ted Nash
“Matrix” arranged by Vincent Gardener
“Crystal Silence” arranged by Marcus Pinter
“Children’s Song No. 10” arranged by Wynton Marsalis
“From Forever” (Suite for Big Band dedicated to Herb Pomeroy) arranged by Chick Corea
“You’re Everything” (featuring Gayle Moran Corea) arranged by Victor Goines
“Wigwam” arranged by Ali Jackson
“Tones for Joan’s Bones” arranged by Ted Nash
“Straight up and Down” arranged by Sherman Irby