Last night, Kelly and I went to see Chick Corea and his new band Touchtone at the Ferst Center for the Arts at Georgia Tech. I have been a HUGE fan of Chick for decades (I saw him in a small club in LA over 30 years ago) and have a number of his albums. My expectations of what I was going to see, however, were not fulfilled — they were exceeded with surprise!
As the band took the stage, he announced that the audience should be ready to hear all new music, and nothing we had ever heard from him before. OK,cool. But what? He wasted no time in blowing us all out of our seats with a 30 minute improvisation interspersed with Spanish flamenco and Moroccan overtones. His new collaborators are a global group: Jorge Pardo on flute and sax (ouytstanding!), Carles Benavent on bass (played as I had never heard it before!), Rubem Dantas on all manner of percussion, and a long-time FACOC (friend and collaborator of Corea) Tom Brechtlein on drums. Astounding,but wait,there’s more.
The next set began sweetly with Chick tinkling the piano keys in his familiar fashion his fans would recognize immediately; but shortly this piece too evolved into a broader tone poem again eliciting African and Spanish overtones. Halfway thru the piece, a tall, gorgeous, exotic woman glided in from the wings, dressed all in black silk with a massive fringed shawl, who undulated around the stage finally dancing near the stage in front of the band on a dull back hardwood rectangle. Yes, she was a Spanish flamenco (later introduced as Auxi Fernandez) who delighted us by vibrating her feet with incredible speed, while floating the shawl as if it was impervious to the gravity she used below. Another 30 minute piece ensued.
An all percussion piece was next, with the entire band clapping, snapping their fingers, playing their bodies, or just pounding on something (both genuine as well as fabricated instruments. Amazing, as a melody emerges from the colophony. Wow.
Several more pieces are played, with a variety of styles interspaced within them: rock, jazz, blues, electronica, folk, and world music. From time to time, Auxi would suddenly appear to slither around the stage, pausing occasionally to stutter her toes and heels to the rhythms.
After two hours of absolutely astounding musical performance, he and his group left the stage, only to be summoned back by the 5 minute standing ovation from the crowd. I have been to many concerts, and bands use their finish as a way to elicit an encore or two. Only Chick and Rubem returned however. Chick explained a little of the history of the strange item Rubem was holding, saying it was an ancient descendent of the piano. Rubem began to play it, shortly joined by Chick on the piano, playing it with his fingers on the strings of the 9″ grand, not through the keys.
Very slowly, band members would wander onto the stage, apparently listening and grooving with the sound, and then going to their instruments to join in. Encores are usually 10 minutes or so, after which the band manipulates another (sometimes). Chick’s went on for 45 minutes. In addition, it APPEARED to almost be totally improvised, with band members joining in and then dropping out, walking around the stage, or picking up another’s instrument and joining in for a while. Much of the crowd stayed on their collective feet, and joined in by clapping, yelling out, or humming if commanded by the stage.
I dare say that the majority of the audience “got it”; however, some (blue hairs, and young mothers with thier weak husbands in tow) left at the ovation. The encore was worth the price of admission.
I browsed the Chick Corea website (http://www.chickcorea.com/) to see if there was any semblance of this kind of performance on CD, but sampling his recent releases doesn”t approach the energy I heard last night.
SIDEBAR: Marcus, you have missed him (he was in Berkeley on 3/11) and he is nowhere near Monroe or Montpellier on this tour,bummer for you.