[5 December 2013]
Many of the great bands in jazz didn’t really play together for all that long. Louis Armstrong’s collaboration with Earl Hines was short-lived. Duke Ellington and John Coltrane made a single one-off recording, but it’s beautiful. Sonny Rollins was just a brawny flash in the Clifford Brown/Max Roach pan. The list goes on.
One of finest bands of this sort is captured on this high quality film from the 1972 Montreux Jazz Festival: The Stan Getz Quartet featuring Chick Corea on piano and Fender Rhodes electric piano, Stanley Clarke on acoustic bass, and Tony Williams on drums.
Corea had played with Getz for a stint around 1967, and then he was off with Sarah Vaughn, then with Miles Davis, and then he formed the beginning of his “Return to Forever” band featuring Clarke on bass. But in 1971, Getz found himself without a band, a tour fully booked, and a phone call from Corea. Getz asked Corea not only to bring his band (sometimes supplemented by Airto Moriera on percussion) but also to write him a fresh book of original songs.
The result was sterling and perfectly integrated studio recording Captain Marvel, and performances like the one, live at the great Swiss jazz festival in June 1972, which featured every track but one from the recording, as well as two other tunes.
Much was made at the time of this band being Getz’s entrée to “fusion” jazz, but the truth is merely that Corea was using, very effectively, the electric piano. His original songs were every bit in Getz’s bag: pulsing and lyrical Latin jazz tunes that could shift into a spritely swing at the drop of a hat. In fact, this sound was an ingenious melding of Corea’s strength as a composer with a background in jazz with a Latin tinge and Getz’s decade-long affair with Brazilian rhythms.
A great example of this is the title song, “Captain Marvel”, that pulses with groove but never resorts to backbeat or rock feel—always burbling with polyrhythmic life and never getting flat. The song is instantly memorable and even anthemic, with a staccato melody that is hard to forget. Imagining this song with the Rhodes sound seems silly; Rhodes gives “Marvel” its pop and sparkle.
The electric piano works equally well, though, on the standard ballad, “I Remember Clifford”, hardly fusion, where Corea plays a lovely intro on Rhodes, which leads into a sweet, slightly skipping melody statement by Getz, with Williams working his snare and cymbals with brushes, just so. The electric piano doesn’t get in the way of Getz’s famously gorgeous tone in any way. In fact, it proves to be a perfect complement: pulsing with a kind of orchestral modulation at key moments, with Getz swooping in and covering things with his thick and tender sound.
Clarke’s playing is equally ripe and clear. His tone on acoustic bass has always been distinctive, and on this date he is playing many double-stop sections where he seems to be strumming the big fiddle like it was a ukulele. His partnership with Williams is something wonderful, as neither holds back. Tony Williams seems to be relishing the chance to play behind a soloist as fully in command as Getz. His snare strikes are sharp, his crash cymbal takes your breath away, and the distinctive way that he uses the high-hat on nearly every eighth note of certain passages of “La Fiesta” is utterly distinctive.
When the rhythm section is on its own, behind Corea’s “La Fiesta” solo, for example, it does seem like they lift off into some new territory, somewhere beyond Getz’s normal reach. But that fresh ground isn’t fusion but rather a marvelously edgy space where the freedoms of Corea’s band Circle are nearly present in the dancing rhythms of the tune. Getz never seems uncomfortable with his new, young band. In fact, he presides over it with a hip middle-aged grace, ready to come back in with the melody statement at the right moment, stronger than he sounder at any other time in his career.
A few words about the year 1972. Man, is Getz’s outfit awesome: a white knit sweater in short sleeves with red and blue color blocks making him look like a leisure suit Mondrian, cream-colored pants (tight), and white shoes. And Williams, holy color saturation, man: blood-red flare pants, topped by a magenta colored shirt with a generous pointed collar. Williams is skinny and incredible, and the DVD arguably climaxes with his spectacular and inventive solo on Corea’s “Time Lies”. But then Getz comes in with his solo, and it amounts to a scintillating duel with Williams, the older master going toe-to-toe with this young guy, no fear at all.
This music, like the fashion, is bold, colorful, bracing, a joy to look back on. This was a great, if short-lived, band. Corea would go on to Return to Forever, greater fame, but never greater music, perhaps. Getz would never have as good band, arguably (though his selection of pianists can’t be questioned: Joanne Brackeen, Jim McNeely, Kenny Barron). And the sound of these songs turns out not to be locked in its era like “fusion” might be. Instead, this mostly Latin jazz sounds like stuff for the ages.