As a young jazz player, Chick Corea set out to push the music in new directions, to meld it with different styles and rhythms, to adapt it to new electronic instruments. Now 71, Corea, considered jazz royalty for his mastery of the keyboard and his prolific compositions, has not wavered from this path of musical discovery.
His current concert tour, featuring vibraphonist Gary Burton, with whom Corea has performed off and on for the last four decades, took him to an enthusiastic audience that mostly filled the Main Theater at CSUN's Valley Performing Arts Center on Saturday. There he split his time, forming a duet with Burton for the first half of the show and then adding the Harlem String Quartet for the second half.
Burton, a master in his own right, approaches the vibraphone almost as if it was a keyboard. With four mallets in his two hands, he produces remarkable music with a style that is visually exciting.
In the late 1970s, when Corea toured with Herbie Hancock, their shows were concerts in the grandest sense of the word, right down to their formal attire. For Saturday's performance, though, Corea donned a dark T-shirt and jeans and a casual demeanor. "Where are we?" he joked. "In Pasadena?"
In fact, though, he was in front of an adoring crowd that showered him with applause from the very opening number, Love Castle, with its dreamy and ethereal beginning to its lively and playful conclusion.
Before the evening ended with a second encore, he regaled his fans with a dozen numbers, many of his own creation. These included Allegria, a fusion with flamenco rhythm; Mozart Goes Dancing, redolent with influences by the classic composer; and a tribute to fellow jazz legend Stan Gets, with whom both Corea and Burton once played as sidemen.
Corea, at one point, warned the audience about "the bunch of stuff we're going to throw at you." Turns out they were only too happy to be on the receiving end of his improvisational rhythms and occasionally esoteric riffs.
Perhaps most recognizable was the Corea adaptation of Eleanor Rigby in which he transformed this somber Beatles tune into an upbeat and spirited number that nonetheless retained its haunting core.
The addition of The Harlem String Quartet--with violinists Ilmar Gavilan and Melissa White, cellist Paul Wiancko and Juan-Miguel Hernandez on viola--contributed a lush sound to the mix.
The rich orchestral sound was particularly in evidence in the Orchestra and Waltz segments of Lyric Suite for Sextet and the fifth movement of Adventures of Hippocrates. It added yet another dimension to Corea's music. Taking full advantage of the talented quartet, Corea's adaptation of Round Midnight built on the opening sounds of their strings.
And just when it seemed like Corea had run out of surprises, he managed one more. For his first encore, he brought onstage his wife of 40 years, Gayle Moran. Her petite frame belied a powerful and accurate voice as she sang a poem she had written (and he arranged) about their early love.