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Massry Center for the Arts
Albany, NY
April 4, 2012

by Jeff Waggoner

Chick Corea shot on stage like a gray-haired teenager. A pretty smart trick for a man who is 70, and just a year or so ago was a Buddha- like figure at the piano. Now, he’s as thin as a whippet.

His healthier figure is good news for jazz, as the always accessible 18-time Grammy winner has provided a portal into jazz for generations of music lovers.

When rock took a hard right turn into heavy metal in the 1970s, Corea -- along with John McLaughlin, Miles Davis and a few others -- opened the door to jazz to unwilling headbangers with jazz-rock “fusion.”   Fusion let the novice take a dip into jazz before exposure to the fire hose of music that’s bebop or free jazz.

Corea’s “Return to Forever,” was among the few major commercial successes for any jazz group in the past 40 years.  And his long-term appeal was evident the evening of his solo concert April 4 in the sold-out and tightly packed Massry Center for the Arts recital hall at the College of St. Rose.

“I don’t have a plan tonight except me, the piano and you,” said Corea, looking relaxed in a hooded windbreaker and dungarees, as he stood next to a massive 9’ Steinway D. 

“I get to do anything I want,” and that was just fine with his audience, because, with Corea, “anything he wants” includes fun.

Before and after songs, Corea kept up a humorous patter, at times talking directly to individuals in the audience, commenting on the temperature (cool) in the hall, or giving positive reviews to latecomers about the seats they’d be taking. 

“Those are good seats. You’ll be able to see my hands,” he jokingly said.

It’s said that he credits his religion, Scientology, for his commitment to involving audiences and not simply engaging his internal self.  Corea never turns his back on his listeners, and sought at St. Rose to involve the crowd.

First up for the night was an improvisation that started with tight right hand filigrees and soon spread out all over the 88 keys.  The ad hoc title was “A Conglomeration of a Bunch of Stuff.”

The rest that night were exercises in what Corea does best, refracting the work of others through hisown improvisational box.  He offered up comfortable, familiar sounds that never betrayed his integrity as a first-class improviser.

Those he paid homage to included Stevie Wonder, Bill Evans, Theloneous Monk and Bud Powell as well as the classical composers Alexander Scriabin and Bela Bartok.

Corea had a personal connection with much of the music he played.  He’s friends with Stevie Wonder and an acolyte of Theloneous Monk. “I was around Monk a lot,” Corea said, and it was evident.

Also evident was Corea’s keen touch at the keyboard.  His kind of articulation and dynamic control is most common among classical pianists.

“I’m going to take you into my practice studio,” Corea said before playing the work of the mad Russian Scriabin, who wrote, among other things, wonderfully complex piano etudes at the end of the 19th century. The sound reminds him of jazz, said Corea.

He wound up the concert with six of his short, austere Children’s Songs, or what he called “meanderings” of his from the early 70s

For an encore, saying he was “all played out” he lassoed the audience into doing a sing along.  Two groups of men. Three groups of women. He conducted.

Not only were we listeners but we were collaborators. What better way to close the sale on an appreciative crowd of 400.

Jeff Waggoner has written book, CD and concert reviews for publications such as Down Beat, Jazz Times, Blues Access and The New York Times.