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Jazz Review

Origin of a New Success for Chick Corea

October 23, 1998|DON HECKMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Chick Corea has had a lot to be proud of in an achievement-laden career that reaches back to his '60s work with Miles Davis and his '70s establishment of the seminal fusion group Return to Forever.

But he's never had a band with more potential than Origin, his latest aggregation, and one that remains firmly in the acoustic arena of jazz. Tuesday, after 10 months of on-the-road performance seasoning, the sextet made its first Los Angeles appearance in the opening set of a six-night run at Catalina Bar & Grill.

The response of the eagerly expectant, overflow audience made it clear that Corea has another winner. Origin is, above all, a band with tremendous versatility. Every player is a strong, even exceptional, soloist. And the combination of Steve Davis' trombone with the various woodwind instruments played by Bob Sheppard and Steve Wilson--flutes, clarinets, saxophones in a variety of combinations--provides a rich potential for textural coloring.

This is precisely the kind of situation that best fits Corea's musical temperament. Mixing overlapping elements of improvisation and ensemble passages has always been essential to his music, and he does it especially well with Origin.

In some cases, at least in the opening set, improvisation took precedence over the written segments. "It Could Happen to You," for example, used ensemble riffing primarily to bridge and accent a string of impressive solos. Other numbers made more extensive use of composed sections. Occasionally, Ellingtonesque timbres surfaced through the blend of sound; other passages surged with an Art Blakey-like drive; still others floated with a surprisingly gentle lyricism.

Corea seemed to be enjoying every minute of it, and with good cause. Often smiling, he made frequent eye contact with bassist Avishai Cohen and drummer Jeff Ballard, and romped through his own solos with strikingly youthful vitality.

The only thing missing from Origin's too-brief set was the opportunity to hear more from this splendid jazz ensemble. Corea fans--both old and new--might want to make more than one visit to Catalina this week to hear just how good contemporary jazz can be.

* Chick Corea & Origin at Catalina Bar & Grill through Sunday. 1640 N. Cahuenga Blvd., (213) 466-2210. $28 cover today, Saturday and Sunday, with two-drink minimum. Shows at 8:30 and 10:30 p.m.

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