Solo Piano: Portraits features Corea classics, music from Thelonious Monk, Stevie Wonder, Béla Bartók and much more, as well as improvisations that paint musical "portraits" of audience members from around the world
Solo Piano: Portraits, set for international release May 6, 2014, is an extraordinary audio document, a rare opportunity to hear Chick Corea, one of the most legendary jazz artists of his generation, in a compelling, insightful overview – spoken and played – of the intimate aspects of his art. (International release dates may vary)
When Chick recorded Piano Improvisations on the ECM label in 1971, he was one of the first jazz pianists of his era to release such a recording. The groundbreaking album literally opened the floodgates to a new genre of solo piano that continues strong today.
In 2014, Chick will be releasing this new solo CD set and embarking upon a world tour with a presentation that is as fresh and innovative as ever. With a perfect balance of in-the-moment improvisation, Corea classics, jazz standards, classical renderings and the inimitable Children’s Songs, it is a must-see concert if there ever was one.
The roots of the album trace to the warm interaction Chick has always had with his concert audiences. Thus the title of the CD set.
“I've always found it difficult,” he says, “to just walk on stage, sit down at the piano and just play, without talking to the audience. Maybe I should try that some time, but I don't know how to do it yet. What I really do is try to create kind of a living room atmosphere in the concert hall itself.”
In his desire to enhance that environment, he began to invite audience members on stage and offer to do individual musical portraits of each.
“We place a chair beside the piano,” Chick recalls, “and a volunteer comes up, not exactly knowing what's going to happen, I watch the way they walk, how they're dressed, etcetera, I ask their name and then try to define who they are in an improvised solo.”
On the new album, Chick begins to take a similar path in the first disc with “Chick Talks: About Solo Piano,” a thoughtful spoken narrative about the unique and special qualities of solo jazz piano playing. He follows his remarks with an in-performance presentation of those qualities via his version of the standard “How Deep Is the Ocean?”
Having expressed his own illuminating view of the inventive potentials of solo piano jazz, Chick digs deeply into Portraits with a series of paired tracks, recorded in various cities around the world. With each, he discusses his views regarding the work of a group of legendary jazz figures, followed by his own solo excursions through some of their familiar originals and interpretations.
However, the Portraits of Bill Evans, Thelonious Monk, Steve Wonder, Bud Powell etc. were not, according to Chick, created as portraits comparable to those he creates with audience members.
“I see the Bill Evans, Monk, etc. pieces,” he says, “as something more than portraits. They're really more like interpretations of their music.”
The initial “interpretation” opens with “Chick Talks: About Bill Evans,” in which Chick's spoken thoughts about the much honored Evans are linked to the next track, showcasing his unique version of Evans' “Waltz for Debby.” Eleven years older than Chick, Evans had a powerful impact upon the pianists of the post WWII generation of jazz artists. More than most, Chick – born in 1941 – has transformed that impact into his desire to honor Evans' music while finding his own jazz pathways through the ever-complex world of jazz.
The second Portrait takes a different slant, as “Chick Talks: About Stevie Wonder,” recalling his early interest in the soul and R&B sounds of Stevie Wonder, followed by his own version of Wonder's “Pastime Paradise” from the hugely successful album Songs in the Key of Life.
The range of expressive creativity between the first two Portraits – Bill Evans and Stevie Wonder – continues to be handled brilliantly by Chick as he goes on to explore new Portraits over the course of the album's remaining tracks.
The next Portrait focuses on the incomparable Thelonious Monk. The linkages between Chick and Monk may seem unexpectedly wide, but Chick's creative imagination has always been receptive to an extraordinarily far-ranging array of ideas. And, as Chick notes in “Chick Talks: About Thelonious Monk,” he found some compelling aspects among Monk's many eccentric musical qualities. Many of those qualities are fully present in Chick's versions of “'Round Midnight” (the most recorded jazz standard composed by a jazz musician) and “Pannonica” (inspired by the British jazz supporter, Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter).
The fourth Portrait explores the music of legendary bop pianist Bud Powell. Chick begins with his “Chick Talks: About Bud Powell,” in which he tells of the impact Powell had upon his early development. Fully illustrating that impact, Chick follows his “Talks” with his richly communicative renderings of Powell's “Dusk in Sandi” and “Oblivion” from Powell's album Bud Powell's Moods.''
Disc 1 of Solo Piano: Portraits closes with a musical change of pace, devoting the final track to the flamenco music of Spanish guitarist Paco de Lucía. The choice isn't surprising, given Chick's affection for Latin music of all sorts. After his “Chick Talks: About Paco de Lucía,” he wraps the first disc with a rhythmically dynamic version of de Lucía's “The Yellow Nimbus,” (first recorded by Chick on his 1982 album Touchstone).
Disc 2 of Solo Piano: Portraits continues with a very different collection of musical illustrations. But this time Chick begins with classical music and children's songs before climaxing with his impressionistic jazz piano views of memorable locations around the world
The first track features Chick's spoken thoughts about the melodic lyricism and the lush harmonies of Russian composer Alexander Scriabin, whom Chick describes as a powerful influence. Fully expressing the significance of that influence, he interprets Scriabin's Preludes #2 and #4 from the unique perspective of his ever-exploratory solo piano playing.
Chick's classical episode continues with one of his favorite composers, Béla Bartók. Opening the segment with “Chick Talks: About Bartók” he notes that “Béla Bartók was the first classical composer that really caught my attention when I was in high school, a long time ago.” He then underscores his narrative with a dynamic performance of the arching, Hungarian-tinged phrases of Bartók's colorful Bagatelles #1 through #4.
The program shifts into a different direction next, via Chick's fascination with music for children. After opening with his narrative about children's songs, he plays a sequence of nine original Children's Songs. Each overflows with luscious melodies and the tangy dissonance of child-like rhythms.
Disc 2 comes to an enlightening geographical close with yet another collection of Corea originals, this time applying his compositional and improvisational talents to illustrate what he calls “A journey through some of my favorite landscapes, and some unknown ones, too.” The “favorite landscapes” are gifted with Chick's finest impressionistic playing, creating convincing musical views of Krakow (Poland), Casablanca (Morocco), Easton (Maryland) and Vilnius (Lithuania). Each is a spontaneous portrait of an audience member in those geographical locations who came on stage to experience Chick's musical artistry.
And it's no exaggeration to describe the “favorite landscapes” on the second disc of Solo Piano: Portraits as appropriate, climactic final acts in what will surely be recognized as one of Chick Corea's most creatively mesmerizing performances.