After a month-long stint at the Blue Note back in November, it’s been a while since Chick Corea appeared in New York City. But even with several releases on the way and a world tour with Gary Burton on the horizon, Corea found a spare night to grace the stage at the Highline Ballroom. The avant-garde pianist flew unaccompanied through a selection of jazz standards and favorites. The result was a casual affair that soothed the ears as it intrigued them – a delightful concert crafted by one of the most innovative pairs of hands in contemporary jazz.
“I’m just going to meander for a while, see what the piano’s like,” said Corea, thoughtfully positioned at his keys. Once Bill Evans’ “How Deep is the Ocean” billowed out from under Corea’s fingertips, it became clear that the piano was feeling a bit moody that particular evening. A few bars of good-natured ornamentation soon morphed into brooding experimental cascades, later to whittle down to a few sparse notes and keys. Corea took a similar spin on Evans’ “Waltz for Debbie”, first enveloping the audience in warm, aural caramel before jolting into an unpredictably enigmatic stride.
Amid the restless ambience, Corea sailed forth with impeccable grace, cushioning the weight of each shift in an effortless style, both musical and personal. Before delving into a series of Monk themes, he turned toward the audience and reminisced over his days with the legendary pianist – notably the day he saw (from backstage, peering through a hole in the curtain) Monk play “Rhythm-A-Ning” three different ways in one concert. Illustrating that same technique, perhaps unwittingly, in his version of a Monk classic, Corea improvised on the same introspective phrasing in a spectrum of different ways. Sometimes lush and verbose, other times stormy and ominous, and sometimes even swingy and conversational, Corea never quite settled on one direction or the other.
And over the rest of the hour, Corea continued to dip in and out of moods, tones, and piano gymnastics, growing ever-closer to the line of no return. But just when it seemed like he was about to cross over, Corea immediately led his melody into a heart-gripping aural place, giving every ear in the sold-out house a few moments to digest.