Tuesday, February 05, 2008

New Crystal Silence

New Crystal Silence
By Chick Corea & Gary Burton
Concord Records 2-CD set

Those who prefer the fusion side of Chick Corea have reason to rejoice with the long-awaited news Return to Forever will reunite later this year to tour and possibly record. Those more partial to the acoustic Corea have new opportunities to savor his duets with vibist Gary Burton, one of the preferred contexts in which to hear the pianist. After touring together in 2007 to celebrate their thirty-five year periodic association (with more dates to come in March), the two have revisited tunes from their original recording Crystal Silence as well as succeeding collaborations in the appropriately titled double live set, New Crystal Silence, on-sale today.

The two disks represent two very distinct live sets, starting with the sweeping romanticism of their concert with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and concluding with the camaraderie of a duet concert. The Sydney concert often has an understandably pronounced third stream feel. The opening “Duende” in particular, also brings to mind some of Gil Evans charts for Miles Davis, in its balance of impressionistic orchestral passages with delicate solos. Tim Garland’s arrangements have a weightier feel than the vibe of the original CS on ECM, which is not at all a bad thing, as it puts Corea’s standards in a new context.

“Love Castle” features a stirring introduction, showing how adept Corea and Burton blend together and with the Symphony. Burton’s playing here is beautiful, sounding quite at home with the orchestra. It would be rewarding to hear in such settings more often, as I would argue his 1973 Seven Songs for Quartet and Chamber Orchestra is an overlooked gem in his discography.

New CS also serves as a reminder of Corea’s success composing enduring standards. “Brasilia” proves particularly hospitable to Garland’s arrangements. Of course, it could not be New Crystal Silence without “Crystal Silence.” It unfolds slowly, with much implied, before morphing into a sparkling rendition of the classic theme, with some dazzling interplay between the co-leaders.

Both disks end with Corea’s classic standard “Fiesta.” The first version features darker hues and grand cascading sounds, concluding a dramatic set, whereas the duo version is a rousing set closer, with Corea and Burton sounding audibly inspired. Indeed, the second concert is often an unabashed swinger, with a set list that could have been written by fans, including a briskly boppish “Bud Powell” and the elegantly lilting performance of “Waltz for Debby.”

Along with “La Fiesta,” most short lists of favorite Corea tunes would also include “No Mystery” (sorry no “Spain” this time). Here Corea’s fleet piano runs give it an appropriately exotic flavor. The only tune from the original CS making the second set is “Señor Mouse,” featuring some consistently inventive playing from both musicians.

It is clear throughout New CS that Corea and Burton’s highly attuned musical rapport remains undiminished. Listening to them play off each other and follow each other seamlessly is a pleasure. For acoustic Corea fans, this may well be the release you have been waiting for from the prolific pianist since his marathon live sessions at the Blue Note. It will not disappoint.

(Corea plays NJPAC with Béla Fleck on February 15th and in NY State at Poughkeepsie with Burton on March 7th.)