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The Chick mix

Stewart Oksenhorn

Chick Corea’s musical affinities are impossible to nail down to one certain style. Even calling him a jazz pianist seems limiting, in light of the fusion, orchestral and solo piano projects he has pursued. So pinning Corea to one small spot on the geographical map seems narrow.Still, Spain, and the country’s music, is a theme that shows up continually, and makes up a lot of Corea’s enormous output, including some of his finest moments. Among the jazz pianist’s best-known, and perhaps best compositions is “Spain,” inspired by the noted guitar concerto by Spanish composer Joaquin Rodrigo. Since appearing on the 1973 album “Light as a Feather,” by the Corea-led fusion band Return to Forever, Corea has revisited “Spain” often through the decades, most ambitiously in a symphonic arrangement for the London Philharmonic Orchestra on the 2000 recording “Corea Concerto.” “My Spanish Heart,” a 1976 album, was rooted in flamenco; 1982’s “Touchstone” was a fusion album featuring players from various corners of the Latin world – Spanish guitarist Paco de Lucia, Peruvian percussionist Alex Acuña – and compositions with the Spanish-language titles “Compadres” and “Estancia.””I don’t know how to explain it,” said Corea. “I don’t think of my music as Spanish music. But it’s a culture I really love, and have been inspired by. A lot of my musical friendships come from the Latin world.”It is friendship that has led to Corea’s latest foray into the Spanish realm. A few years ago, playing in Madrid, Corea was joined onstage by de Lucia and several member’s of the guitarist’s band. The flame was ignited again, and Corea invited three of the players – bassist Carles Benavent, flutist Jorge Pardo and percussionist Rubem Dantas – into his new combo, Touchstone. Those three, along with American drummer Tom Brechtlein, have formed the core of Corea’s working band for nearly two years.

Corea and Touchstone perform at the Belly Up Thursday, March 16. The concerts, at 8 and 10:30 p.m., are part of Jazz Aspen’s Winter Jazz series.Corea’s Spanish connections didn’t stem from his family roots. A native of Chelsea, Mass., Corea was born to first-generation Americans of Italian origin; his grandparents came from Sicily and southern Italy.What Corea’s father, Armando, did instill in his blood was a passion for music. Armando was a trumpeter, percussionist and bandleader, who gave his son few specific directions, but a wide latitude to explore.”It was a great beginning for me, to have a father, and mother too, who encouraged me,” said Corea by phone. “They didn’t try to stop me from having an imagination, trying things out. And my dad had such a strong love for music. My environment was a good one to grow up in, very free and encouraging.”Corea took that sense of freedom seriously. Since emerging in the early ’60s – primarily with the Latin bands of Mongo Santamaria and Willie Bobo – Corea has laid down one of the most wide-spanning careers in music. He played Fender Rhodes electric piano on Miles Davis’ landmark “Filles de Kilimanjaro” album in 1968, as well on Davis’ proto-fusion albums “In a Silent Way” and “Bitches Brew.” Shortly thereafter, he recorded “Piano Improvisations, Vol. 1 and 2,” which put solo piano music somewhat in the spotlight. Around the same time, Corea put together something on the opposite end of the artistic map, Return to Forever, a fusion band whose membership included, at various stages, drummer Lenny White, guitarist Al Di Meola and the South American pair of drummer Airto Moreira and singer Flora Purim.Since then, Corea has bounced from straight-ahead jazz to solo piano recording to fusion projects, none of them lacking for focus.

“I’ve never viewed myself as being a musician who had a style, one kind of band, one kind of thing,” said Corea. “I like to learn new ways of doing things. When I meet a new musician who inspires me, I like to explore with him, make contact. Out of those relationships comes a lot of different directions.”As well as a lot of music. At 64, Corea is as prolific as he has ever been. In this decade alone, Corea has released the two-CD companion set, “Solo Piano,” with one disc devoted to original tunes and the other to standards; “To the Stars,” credited to the Chick Corea Elektric Band; and the monumental “Rendezvous in New York,” released as both a two-CD album and a 10-DVD box set, documenting a three-week career retrospective at New York’s Blue Note, which had Corea |performing in a staggering variety of combinations.This year, Corea released “The Ultimate Adventure,” a world fusion outing that touches not only on Spain, Africa and Arabia, but science fiction and spirituality as well. Corea imagines the album as a sort of soundtrack to the book of the same name by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, who also inspired the “To the Stars” project.Corea sees his mass of output as a stroke of rebellion against the music industry. Explaining his prolific tendency, he said it’s “mainly because it’s against the law. You’re not supposed to do that – so I like to do it. It seems to be, when I get very productive, a lot of questions come up. People think it’s weird. But I’m most happy when I’m productive.”Corea is also happiest when breaking new ground, so there should be good cause for contentment in the upcoming months.The shows in Aspen will feature Corea’s latest experiment: Auxi Fernandez, a flamenco dancer who appears onstage with the band, which Corea calls “a whole new dimension for me, in my presentation to the audience.”

And this summer, Corea will tour with a 30-piece chamber orchestra, performing his own piano concerto and, in honor of the 250th anniversary of the birth of the composer, one of Mozart’s concertos.Also coming this summer Only a small bit of the summer music season has come into focus, but what is known is choice.Medeski, Martin & Wood play June 9, opening the Chili Pepper & Brew Fest in Snowmass Village. The Brooklyn-based avant-jazz keyboard trio comes in the wake of “Note Bleu,” a retrospective CD of the band’s years on the Blue Note label, due for release April 4.The Blind Boys of Alabama, the powerful gospel blues group that has been in existence some 60 years, plays a free show July 1 in Snowmass. And Nickel Creek, the groundbreaking acoustic outfit from San Diego, also plays a free one, Aug. 19.

And before that But before the warm weather hits, there are a few major happenings to be addressed.None is more major than a two-night stand by the Blind Boys of Alabama’s recording partner, Ben Harper, at the Belly Up, April 2-3. Harper, whose last album was a 2004 gospel recording, “There Will Be a Light,” paired him with the Blind Boys, will perform with his band, the Innocent Criminals. Harper’s new album on his own, “Both Sides of the Gun,” is set for release March 21.Acoustic ace Tim O’Brien, the current Grammy winner in the traditional folk category for his “Fiddler’s Green” album, performs Sunday, March 19 at Carbondale’s new Thunder River Theatre.Also coming to the Belly Up: reggae bands Steel Pulse (March 22) and Toots & the Maytals (April 9), and, on the theory that Carnival time can be anytime, Jojo & His Mardi Gras Band, led by Widespread Panic keyboardist Jojo Hermann, March 25.Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is stewart@aspentimes.com


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