By Danny R. Johnson – Jazz and Pop Music Critic
LOS ANGELES – This is the paradox of Chick Corea: Throughout the years of his greatest exposure, he was, at the same time, one of the most challenging and accessible of pianists. His work bristled with thorny dissonances and sizzled rhythmic energy. He drew from an eclectic well of inspiration from Bartók to salsa, cerebral now, and then burning with montuno spice.
The 22-time GRAMMY-winning jazz legend pianist, composer, and versatile Corea extends his adventurism once again in his new Concord Records cd, “The Spanish Heart Band – Antidote,” scheduled to be released on June 28, 2019. This remarkable album is a sort of ‘coming home’ for this masterful artist who has recorded hundreds of albums as a solo artist and collaborator over six decades in the music business.
“Antidote” is the perfect avenue and remedy for Corea to further explore his adventurousness, which can’t be denied, but neither could his listenability. No matter how far he roamed in his harmonization, Corea never left the listener behind. As in most of Corea’s albums, the tune wasn’t always apparent in his solos, a fidelity to the idea of melody persisted. The “Antidote” is an exception though because, for all the polyrhythms and sharp staccato attacks, something in his playing and the musicians performing in this album invites the listener to create their own melodies around his fragmented improvisations. His music is musical, and he brings out the best is the listener.
Corea assembled a talented and superb entourage of musicians from diverse cultures to make harmonious music together. In addition to this stellar new ensemble, the recording features guest appearances by the acclaimed Panamanian vocalist Rubén Blades and gifted singers Gayle Moran Corea and Maria Bianca.
“My genetics are Italian,” Corea says, “but my heart is Spanish. I grew up with that music. This new band is a mix of all the wonderful and various aspects of my love and lifetime experience with these rhythms that have been such a big part of my musical heritage.”
To embark on this vibrant exploration, the 78-year-old keyboard virtuoso has assembled a brilliant eight-piece band: Flamenco guitarist Niño Josele and saxophonist/flutist Jorge Pardo both hail from Spain and have both worked with the late flamenco master Paco de Lucía. Bassist Carlitos Del Puerto was born in Havana, Cuba and played on Chinese Butterfly, Corea’s 2017 collaboration with legendary drummer Steve Gadd – as did Venezuelan percussionist Luisito Quintero.
Trumpeter Michael Rodriguez and trombonist Steve Davis form an unstoppable horn front line, while Marcus Gilmore follows in the footsteps of his grandfather, the great Roy Haynes, as a master drummer (and close collaborator with Corea). The band is augmented by the fiery footwork of rising star flamenco dancer Nino de los Reyes.
Whether playing solo, doing duos with simpatico artists, or mentoring young guns in the Elektric Band, the Akoustic Band, and Origin, Corea made profound improvisations sound as easy as a 12-bar blues guitar break. Listen for example the classic “My Spanish Heart,” where a moderate tempo does little to dampen his attack: Only a few seconds into the track the rhythm section is ticking softly in the background. Corea’s pounds massive triplet chords that rise to a thunderous tremolo. Though he does switch to rapid but muscular runs later in the piece, he keeps returning to out-of-rhythm, ten-fingered chords punctuated by octaves and low blows in the bass. Like Cecil Taylor, Corea is intoxicated with sound, unlike Taylor, he finds his power by pouring that sound into forms long established and recognized by the Latino musical culture.
The 11 astonishing selections on “Antidote” are remarkable for the quality of musicianship, the warm rapport between the players, the varied timbre and texture of the sounds, and the extraordinary number of Spanish and Latino musical forms alluded to. Responses between the artists are full of joyful surprises and they spur each other on without the fear of being eclipsed.