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JAZZ REVIEW

Energized Powell Tribute From Corea

March 21, 1997|DON HECKMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Pianist Chick Corea has been in a Bud Powell state of mind for quite a while. Last summer, he appeared at the Hollywood Bowl to perform a program of tunes by Powell and his latest recording further examines works by the legendary bop pianist.

Wednesday night, Corea remained in a similar mode in a one-night program at Billboard Live that was the initial event in a collaboration between the venue and the Playboy Jazz Festival.

The Corea/Powell combination is an unusual one, at least on the basis of the music Corea has focused upon in the past few decades. But his playing, even during the fusion-oriented years with Miles Davis, Return to Forever and his own electric groups, always has retained an implicit bop quality. Corea simply used the turbulent flow of bop's rhythmic articulation, as well as its complex harmonic extensions, as the foundation for a more expansive kind of music.

The group Corea brought to Billboard Live was, with the omission of Joshua Redman, identical to the band that appeared at the Bowl last summer: Kenny Garrett on alto saxophone, Wallace Roney on trumpet, Christian McBride on bass and Roy Haynes on drums. But where the Bowl program often seemed to ramble, this performance, before an overflow crowd, was focused, together and filled with a burning forward drive.

The highlight came early, via an up-tempo romp through Powell's "Tempus Fugit." Corea sounded energized, ripping off boppish chorus after chorus, offering up constant reminders of the roots of his playing. After the initial soloing was completed, the horn players stepped aside as the basic trio surged into a long, extended series of exchanges between Corea's piano and Haynes' drums. The resulting music was so exceptional that Garrett and Roney--for all the excellence of their soloing--were barely missed. And Haynes, as he always does, provided the spark that triggered the nonstop flow of energy.

The interchange between Haynes, who just celebrated his 71st birthday, and McBride, who will be 25 in May, was stunning--a compelling testimony to the open-minded spirit and the intergenerational connectiveness that are at the heart and soul of jazz.

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