Saturday, May 30, 2009

REVIEW: Hubbard / Henderson / Corea / Clarke / White: Echoes of A Hard Bop Era

(This review will run on beginning June 2nd, 2009, and will also be archived separately with my other reviews at

Wolf & Rissmiller's Country Club, April 7, 1982. Walking forward to the front of the stage, producer/drummer Lenny White held a microphone to his lips to announce the members of the band, beginning with "I'd like to take this opportunity to introduce you to the world's greatest musicians..." A subjective statement, yes, but he had a point.

Four days earlier this same mutually evolved, once-in-a-lifetime band--trumpeter/ flugelhornist Freddie Hubbard, tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson, pianist Chick Corea, bassist Stanley Clarke, and White himself--had brought down the house with their show at the Circle Star Theater in San Carlos, California, now reissued on the 2-disc Griffith Park Collection 2--In Concert (Wounded Bird, 2008). This after having recorded two studio albums with the same personnel in the eight preceding days.

A man with a mission, White had selected these veteran players from his own experiences playing alongside them. Not only had he performed with each in a multitude of settings, but each of them had also played with each of the others in various groupings over the years. All were itching to play again in a straight-ahead hard bop context. This was no hastily assembled all-star band. Instead, it was a gathering of five star-crossed collaborators capable of supporting each other so well that they anticipated producing some of the hottest work any of them had ever done. They did not disappoint.

Echoes Of An Era
Rhino Records

First up was a studio album, Echoes Of An Era, a selection of well-chosen standards done the old-fashioned way with mics on everybody, no more than two takes of anything, no overdubs--but departing from the norm by featuring the vocals of R&B siren Chaka Khan. To many in the jazz world's amazement (and delight, for it earned the singer a Grammy nomination) Khan skillfully runs through the paces on a series of Corea's athletically demanding arrangements. First, the Pinkard/Tracy/Tauber standard "Them There Eyes," then the Ella Fitzgerald-esque swoop-and-scat "All Of Me," followed by a galloping romp through Thelonious Monk's "I Mean You" that is full of unison jumps and masterful comping and soloing from Corea, as he does some of the best interpreting of Monk since Monk. The titles are all familiar--George Gershwin's "I Loves You Porgy," Billy Strayhorn's "Take The 'A' Train," Frank Loesser's "I Hear Music"--but Khan's fresh approach is anything but familiar.

Griffith Park Collection
Wounded Bird Records

Realizing the wealth of talent that had assembled, Bruce Lundvall at Elektra/Musician asked for an album featuring just the instrumentalists. The reissued Griffith Park Collection opens with White's "L's Bop," a 60's Blue Note paean showcasing some vintage Hubbard hornwork that evokes those sunny days when Blue Note producer Alfred Lion was repeatedly capturing the blinding brilliance of an era. Clarke's "Why Wait" is a blues that sneaks up barefooted as the bassist strums a slow amble of a walking rhythm, White riding a cymbal step-for-step, Hubbard and Henderson blowing sweet unison notes and somehow managing to create the additional harmonic of a trombone between them, when Corea's aggressive comping style finally gives the meter a push and Henderson punches a full-throated solo with his thick, unmistakable copper-and-zinc tone. A little over a minute into it when White bounces a snare roll that introduces the chorus' arrival like the low roar of an incoming tide, the boys are swinging so hard that you can feel it in your body.

Griffith Park Collection 2: In Concert
Wounded Bird Records

This is a stunning live recording of these same tunes. Magically resurrected from a soundboard cassette of one of the shows during the group's five day California tour, Griffith Park Collection 2: In Concert starts with "Why Wait," this time at a slightly slower tempo that seems to open up the arrangement and allow the soloists room to swing even harder. Like wanderers returning to their home hearth, they play with a mounting sense of urgency and passion as the night wears on, pursuing the music like it was the source of life itself.

Stalwart rhythm aces White and Clarke could both have turned in longer and more frequent solos, but this particular night they were largely content to lay down strong-shouldered support for the incendiary energies of Hubbard, Henderson and Corea--three players bursting with energy and clearly in a mood to solo on some unrestrained bop. Especially Hubbard. (In January 2009, multi-reedist Bennie Maupin got a roar of laughter from a church full of mourners with the opening line of his eulogy for the departed legend. With his trademark Cheshire grin, Maupin said: "Every musician knew that if you were going to play with Freddie Hubbard, you had to be ready to be humbled.")

These guys were certainly ready for something. Without preamble Hubbard starts by blowing a series of runs that sound like cascades of sparks sprayed from an arc welder's torch (it's tempting to imagine the other players wearing protective goggles as they watch him intently.) No question, Hubbard's unbridled, over-the-ramparts approach might have had a daunting effect on another stage, but on this spring evening it leads the charge and sets a standard. Each player's solo invites the next until it is clear that each is ready to take full advantage of this rare opportunity. White's "Guernica" is an unforgettable, hair-raising blowing session that evokes the passionate emotional landscape of that war-torn Spanish city. Hubbard's flashy, headlong bopper "Happy Times" is followed by Corea's tone poem "October Ballade," and then it's back to the races with a hard-driving "I Mean You," and finally a gently swaying "Here's That Rainy Day" with a handful of lyrical flourishes from Hubbard to close things out.

Chick Corea - A Very Special Concert
Image Entertainment

The laudatory band introduction from Lenny White, quoted earlier, was occasioned by their spectacular last performance. Good mobile recording equipment and several cameras recorded the evening's events, so although record company politics/economics have kept Echoes of An Era 2: the Concert (Elektra Musician, 1982) from being reissued on CD, rights acquired from Sony have resulted in two DVDs: Chick Corea--A Very Special Concert and Chick Corea Band with Nancy Wilson--A Very Special Concert (available only as a Japanese import). Re-packaged or hard-to-find imports, oddly titled by front-running labels in pursuit of sales though they may be, these are treasures worth digging for.

In place of Hubbard's horn, singer Nancy Wilson's elastic vocals are added to the mix on six of these tunes. A mature stylist who had sung with everyone from Cannonball Adderley's quintet to the Billy May Orchestra, Wilson's doing tunes so familiar to her that she is able deconstruct and improvise new renditions of them on the spot, achieving a level of slippery bop intensity only possible with musicians of this caliber behind her. Working with the same book of material as they had used with Chaka Khan, these journeymen deftly adapt the songs to Wilson's broader approach and pull them off as self-contained performances.

But as good as they are with Wilson, their fiery explosiveness engages on an entirely new level when these four, limber and lathered as cheetahs chasing a gazelle, tear after a tune at hard bop speed. Henderson comes out of the gate so fast and pours such ferocity into White's "L's Bop" that the pace pulls it out of the station at top speed. Shortly after Corea takes the solo duties from the saxophonist at the half-way point, a camera comes in for a shot over his right shoulder and catches Clarke nimbly flying along the neck while staring across at the pianist, doing a double-take as Corea furiously pummels the keys with an awe-inspiring musicality that is guiding the rhythm section until the moment he can let the drummer take his solo. And what a solo--if White's mentor, Tony Williams, had been in the crowd that evening, he might well have been on his feet. These are monster musicians who had been playing together every day for a month. On this last recorded-and-filmed gig they are pouring everything they have experienced together into a bravura performance that probably could never happen again. And if Flora Purim's 6-octave skydiving on Return to Forever (ECM, 1972) is the definitive vocal version of "500 Miles High," the trio version that Corea, Clarke and White do here could well be the definitive instrumental rendition.

The world's greatest musicians? Who knows... What is certain is that the kind of mastery and dynamic synergism on display in these performances comes from musicians who possess that exceedingly rare ability to listen as well as they blow. As Lenny White said when asked about his composition "Guernica": "When you write for musicians like this, all you need to do is give them a few notes and let them play."

Tracks and Personnel

Echoes Of An Era

Tracks: Them There Eyes; All Of Me; I Mean You; I Love You Porgy; Take The A Train; I Hear Music; High Wire/The Aerialist; All Of Me; Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most.

Personnel: Chaka Khan: vocals; Freddie Hubbard: flugelhorn, trumpet; Joe Henderson: tenor saxophone; Chick Corea: piano; Stanley Clarke: acoustic bass; Lenny White: drums.

Griffith Park Collection

Tracks: L's Bop; Why Wait; October Ballade; Happy Times; Remember; Guernica.

Personnel: Freddie Hubbard: flugelhorn, trumpet; Joe Henderson: tenor saxophone; Chick Corea: piano; Stanley Clarke: acoustic bass; Lenny White: drums.

Griffith Park Collection 2: In Concert

Tracks: Why Wait; Guernica; Happy Times; October Ballade; I Mean You; Here's That Rainy Day.

Personnel: Freddie Hubbard: flugelhorn, trumpet; Joe Henderson: tenor saxophone; Chick Corea: piano; Stanley Clarke: acoustic bass; Lenny White: drums.

Chick Corea - A Very Special Concert

Tracks: L's Bop; Why Wait; 500 Miles High; Guernica.

Personnel: Joe Henderson: tenor saxophone; Chick Corea: piano; Stanley Clarke: bass; Lenny White: drums.

Chick Corea Band with Nancy Wilson - A Very Special Concert

Tracks: I Want To Be Happy; I Get A Kick Out Of You; 'Round Midnight; But Not For Me; Yesterday; Them There Eyes; Take The "A" Train.

Personnel: Nancy Wilson: vocals; Joe Henderson: tenor saxophone; Chick Corea: piano; Stanley Clarke: bass; Lenny White: drums.

Visit Lenny White, Stanley Clarke, Chick Corea, Freddie Hubbard, Joe Henderson, Nancy Wilson and Chaka Khan on the web.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Richard Bailey: Credit Where Credit is Due

I received an email a few days ago from Richard Bailey, requesting that the record be set straight re: who did the drumming on Jeff Beck's seminal jazz/rock fusion album, Blow by Blow (1975, Epic/Sony Japan). Simple. It was Richard Bailey. Seems that a rumor has been making the rounds on various blogs and print outlets that the wonderfully intricate, high-octane work on tunes like "Scatterbrain" was actually done by another great drummer from that period, Billy Cobham. This is patently untrue. As Bailey said in his email, he was "the one and only drummer on Blow by Blow", that esteemed work that influenced so much of the rock, jazz and jazz/rock fusion that followed, as well as two other tracks for Beck's subsequent jazz/rock monster, Wired(1976, Epic/Sony Japan) -- the Mingus tune "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat" and "Head for Backstage Pass".

Bailey's versatility has made him a first-call kitman for four decades. In addition to the work he did with Beck, he's recorded with ex-Rolling Stone Mick Taylor, Steve Roach and Brian Eno. More recently he has been an integral part of Steve Winwood's two important return-to-form recordings, 2003's About Time (Wincraft) and last year's Nine Lives (Columbia), and he regularly performs and records with the excellent acid jazz/rock/soul fusion collective Incognito.

Sunday, May 10, 2009


Corea, Clarke and White to open a fall tour at the Hollywood Bowl Sept. 2

Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke and Lenny White have booked a handful of engagements for later this year, commencing Sept. 2 at the Hollywood Bowl. No, it isn't the Return To Forever Returns II that we were all anticipating. The initial agreement to play together this year was apparently consummated last summer while they were touring as Return To Forever, but their agent Ted Kurland Associates has recently begun to book them aggressively. Guitarist Al Di Meola, who publicly claimed to take severe umbrage at the idea that he hadn't been included, has hopefully moved on. Hell hath no fury like a guitar god scorned.

Note on Corea, Clarke and White's Hollywood Bowl show here in Los Angeles: the Hollywood Bowl was selling subscription tickets only until last week, but single tickets are now available. John Scofield and his Piety Street Band will join them on the bill. Reasonably priced, I might add.

Hollywood Bowl
Los Angeles, CA

Detroit International Jazz Festival - Chase Main Stage
Detroit, MI

Monterey Jazz Festival - Lyon's Stage
Monterey, CA

The Royal Conservatory - Telus Centre for Performance and Learning - Koerner Hall
Toronto, Ontario CANADA

Palace Hall
Bucharest, ROMANIA

Skopje Jazz Festival 2009 - Universal Hall

50! Jazz Festival Ljubljana - Cankarjev Dom, Cultural & Congress Centre
Ljubljana, SLOVENIA

Oosterpoort Main Hall

11/27/2009 to 12/02/2009
Blue Note Tokyo
Tokyo, JAPAN