One of the most influential figures in jazz and one of the greatest living jazz pianists, Chick Corea is a chameleonic artist capable of leaping from hard bop to fusion, from flamenco-inspired improvisations to Mozart, and from standards to originals. Rarely standing still in his career, Corea has for decades also placed a premium on engaging audiences with accessible and enjoyable pieces of music.
In advance of his trio’s July 4 performance in Highland Park, IL, at the Ravinia Festival alongside the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, here are five essential albums from his discography, focusing on his projects as a leader (his incredible sideman appearances and his superb duo albums will have to wait for another post!).
Now He Sings, Now He Sobs (Blue Note, 1968)
In 1968, Corea was a noted sideman whose pianistic and compositional talents had graced the bands of Donald Byrd, Blue Mitchell, Hubert Laws, Herbie Mann, Sonny Stitt, and of course Miles Davis. Corea had only just begun to receive broader attention as a bandleader in his own right following his debut Tones for Joan’s Bones. However, that would change with the release of his now-classic trio recording Now He Sings, Now He Sobs.
Joined by bassist Miroslav Vitous and drummer Roy Haynes, Corea lays down a tour de force not only of his piano chops but of his thrilling compositional capabilities (indeed, the title track alone is worth the price of admission). Focusing entirely on his own works in the original release (the CD reissue's bonus tracks include a couple standards), Now He Sings, Now He Sobs made the declarative statement that Corea was a rising master of the keyboard.
Paris-Concert (ECM, 1972)
Chick Corea’s time with Miles Davis was relatively brief and, in hindsight, serves as a prelude to Corea’s powerful and influential work with his fusion ensemble Return to Forever. However, in 1970 and 1971—between those two chapters of his career—Corea led a remarkable ensemble dubbed Circle. The group was initially a trio of Corea with fellow Davis sideman Dave Holland and drummer Barry Altschul, though multi-reed iconoclast Anthony Braxton joined for several dates and sessions (including Paris-Concert). Inspired by some of Miles’s experimental leanings, Corea and Circle explored freer structures, extended techniques, and extended improvisations. For listeners accustomed to some of Corea’s more immediately accessible works, Circle can come as a bit of a surprise. However, Paris-Concert (a multi-disc capture of a live performance) showcases why this ensemble is worth your time. The classic Wayne Shorter composition “Nefertiti” is given a thrilling new reading, while the original compositions and duets the members prepared are extraordinary. Paris-Concert is an immersive introduction to Corea’s more experimental side.
Light as a Feather (Polydor, 1973)
Corea’s famed Return to Forever ensemble is something of a polymorph, and its tenure in the 1970s saw significant changes in personnel and also ensemble sound (compare its self-titled release with Romantic Warrior). Indeed, in its earliest incarnations, Return to Forever was a more acoustic quartet or quintet, with Corea joined by bass virtuoso Stanley Clarke, percussionist Airto Moreira, reedist Joe Farrell, and vocalist Flora Purim. Light as a Feather showcases that line-up at its best and features many of Corea’s greatest compositions, including “Captain Marvel,” the now-classic “Spain,” “500 Miles High,” and the title track. Deftly weaving together many musical influences into a highly personal and immediately recognizable fusion, Corea offers some of his most inspired work on this exceptional album.
corea.concerto (Sony, 1999)
Chick Corea had always shown an interest in classical music and notably brought it to the forefront with The Mozart Sessions, a collaborative album with Bobby McFerrin and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. However, at the end of the 1990s, Corea, joined by members of his ensemble Origin, teamed up with the London Philharmonic Orchestra for a three-movement re-orchestration of the classic “Spain” as well as the unveiling of Corea’s “Piano Concerto No. 1.” Even with the many versions of “Spain” that we’ve heard over the years, the orchestration featured on corea.concerto stands out with its expanded tonal palette, remarkable added melodies, and incredible fusion of musical worlds.
Trilogy (Concord, 2013)
Joined by bassist Christian McBride and drummer Brian Blade (with whom he’ll be performing at the Ravinia Festival), Corea makes the most of this supergroup on an expansive three-disc live album. Offering a massive overview of his career through sometimes subtle, sometimes breathtaking readings of his original works, standards, and even classical works, Trilogy comes across almost like a dizzying musical autobiography. Particular highlights include “Piano Sonata: The Moon,” “Blue Monk,” and “Spain.”
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Chick Corea is one of the most influential figures in jazz and one of the greatest living jazz pianists. In advance of his trio’s July 4 performance in Highland Park, IL, at the Ravinia Festival alongside the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, here are five essential albums from his discography.
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