Chick Corea Akoustic Band ‘Live’ 3LP/2CD (Concord Jazz) 5/5

Never let it be said that music can’t deliver pure joy. Released posthumously, it’s hard to believe that it’s already over 6 months since legendary pianist Chick Corea passed away, but this performance from his long-serving trio, with bassist John Patitucci and drummer Dave Weckl, recorded in January 2018 at SPS Music Hall in Florida, is a reminder of just how inspired and spirited the Akoustic Band were. In this live recording, across two CDs, the trio’s brilliance burns as brightly as it ever has done. It is a beautiful thing, music, and this album acts not only as a celebration of that fact, but also as a reminder of the genius that was Chick Corea, and the wonderful music he gave to the world.

One of the great things about this album is that I can feel, sense and hear the delight and jubilation emanating from the musicians and reverberating around the concert hall, through the audience, and out of my speakers as I listen. Corea worked had to make sure everything was just right for this first release by the trio in over two decades, and the special relationship that existed between the three musicians is clear to hear. The camaraderie is a major part of the performance, one that speaks volumes of the friendship the trio must have enjoyed. That friendship began in 1985, when Corea enlisted Patitucci and Weckl, both 25 years old and nearly 20 years younger than the renowned keyboardist, for his new project – an electric ensemble to follow on and evolve the innovations sparked by Corea’s ground-breaking Return To Forever. Two years later, the bandleader felt the itch to return to a more traditional jazz setting and surprisingly, instead of recruiting a pair of more acoustically oriented players, he simply repurposed the rhythm section for the Elektric Band – with spectacular and memorable results.

“Playing with Chick and Dave again is really a joy”, said Patitucci prior to Corea’s passing. “The connection we have is very special and stronger than ever.” And that sentiment most definitely comes across loud and clear on all of the 13 tracks recorded here. Weckl added: “To be able to sit and communicate through the music with Chick and John, is an honour and always a completely gratifying experience.” And sure enough, it’s not just the spell-binding interplay between the musicians that strikes me on this recording, it’s the genuine warmth and charm that strikes a chord in my heart, as well as in my ears. Right from the off, it’s vintage Akoustic Band, with the trio reprising Corea’s own “Morning Sprite” from the self-titled album. The musicianship, the melodies, the soloing from all three musicians right across this entire recording is stunning. It’s inventive, it’s heart-stopping, it’s such a pleasure to listen to. Another Corea original, “A Japanese Waltz” is masterful, with a shimmering take on the standard “That Old Feeling” just as incredible. With a mesmerising solo intro, Duke Ellington’s “In A Sentimental Mood” is more stately in tone, undoubtedly one of my favourite pieces on the album. “Rhumba Flamenco” taps into the pianist’s well-known love for Spanish music, leaving me breathless with appreciation. “Summer Night” and “Humpty Dumpty” close the first set, both tunes bursting with dynamic energy. Corea also opens the second set alone, with “On Green Dolphin Street”, captivating and alluring. The trio creates an enthralling atmosphere on the beautiful “Eternal Child”, following with the more brisk and smouldering tempo of “You and The Night and The Music”. “Monk’s Mood”, with its lush harmonies, leads into a second version of “Humpty Dumpty”, before the evening closes with a special guest appearance by the pianist’s wife, vocalist Gayle Moran Corea, for the final, vocally demanding piece “You’re Everything”, originally performed by Flora Purim with the original Return To Forever on 1973’s “Light As A Feather”.

It’s fair to say that this thrilling live recording would be a welcome addition to Chick Corea’s prodigious discography under any circumstances, but with the news of his passing still so fresh on listener’s minds, its release is a very welcome opportunity to cherish the communal energy and playful vigour that made the pianist a favourite of jazz lovers around the world for nearly 60 years.

This 2 CD set is released this month, with a 3LP set being released at the end of January 2022.

Mike Gates