On September 23rd a new Chick Corea live compilation album will be released. All tracks have been recorded at the Montreux Jazz Festival and are a wonderful collection of amazing musicianship. As I knew both Chick Corea and the founder of the Montreux Jazz Festival, Claude Nobs, well and worked with them for many years, I was (surprisingly for me) asked, if I could write the liner notes for that album. I gladly agreed to do so and after I listened to the music, selected by Fraser Kennedy, as well a long-time collaborator of the festival and a friend of Claude and myself, I felt honoured to write about the album and a bit about my relationship with Chick. Both men have been a great influence in my professional life and I learned a lot from both of them. Working with them has been a pleasure and privilege for me.
The album ‘The Montreal Years’ will be released as a 2 LP package and a single CD, and of course digitally and is a worthy addition to the Corea catalogue.
Following are my liner notes for the record, which were added to what John McLaughlin wrote about his friendship with Chick:
Armando Anthony ‘Chick’ Corea played in Montreux for the first time in 1972 as part of the Stan Getz Quartet, followed in 1979 by a duo concert with Herbie Hancock. He then was invited by festival founder Claude Nobs many more times to perform with his various groups and guests. It would have been easy to compile, out of the 14 recorded concerts Chick Corea played in Montreux during the Claude Nobs era, an album simply with all his ‘hits’. But that wouldn’t have given credit to the artist, nor to the festival and his founder, as both of them were about openness and variety and didn’t know borders or genres when it came to music. Chick Corea was a musician without limits. He moved from straight ahead jazz to the Avantgarde, to Latin Jazz and Fusion and always had a foot in Classical music. Genres didn’t matter, it was all music, nothing else. ‘The Montreux Years’ reflects this broad musical world of the composer and pianist, as well as paying tribute to the influential improviser.
Chick’s music was a big part of the soundtrack of my life ever since I discovered ‘Return To Forever’ in 1973. In 1992 Chick started Stretch Records for his releases. That’s when I met him for the first time and started to work on his albums. Chick invited me to the opening of the Blue Note in Milano in 2003 and we discussed the publication of a project he had done with Philips Electronics – the surround sound recording of a series of shows at the Blue Note in New York. ‘Rendezvous In New York’, features the ‘crème de la crème’ of improvised music! Whenever possible I saw Chick on tour, we had dinners or lunches together or just chatted a bit. Once he gave me as a present a new iPod, the so-called ‘Chickpod’ with a little video message on it … and when I got married in July 2007, he sent me a little song, ‘Wulf’s Wedding Song’, from wherever he was at the time on tour … something my wife and I still value a lot.
Chick Corea was a very generous man, in general, as well as when making music, leaving space for his side men to shine and add something to his outstanding compositions. On the opener on this album, ‘Fingerprints’, recorded with his New Trio featuring Avishai Cohen on bass and Jeff Ballard on drums, Chick gets into the song with a lot of energy and swinging power, then steps back a bit and lets Jeff Ballard shine. On the following ‘Bud Powell’ Chick’s intro into the song is beautiful and touching, displaying his musical affinity with and respect for Powell. The Freedom Band goes into the swing easily and especially Christian McBride, who stands out beside the leader. This composition was performed and recorded a lot by Corea, my personal favourites, next to what can be heard here, are the versions he did with Gary Burton and the one with the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra.
The original recording of ‘Three Quartet, No. 2’ was released in 1981 and featured Michael Brecker, Eddie Gomez and Steve Gadd. The same line up recorded the track as well live for the 2003 ‘Rendezvous In New York’ album. Here the version is just a trio and puts more focus on Corea, who showcases everything that made him such a legendary figure in jazz: melodic and rhythmic sensibility, incredible technique, improvisations of the highest level and all this bundled with lots of emotions. On ‘Interlude’ by his Elektric Band, Chick is playing with the audience, before having the band come in and take the groove away. That was another important thing for Chick – having fun while playing, with his musicians and the audience. And these tapes from Montreux are further proof of this.
‘Who’s Inside The Piano?’ is, despite being part of a quartet concert, a powerful and touching solo piano performance and giving a clear answer to that question: what is the spirit and soul of Chick Corea? ‘Dignity’ stems from the same concert as ‘Fingerprints’, and is a beautiful and captivating composition by Chick, dedicated to his mother. The New Trio is in fine form and makes the song sound almost ‘classical’. Which leads perfectly into the one classical composition by Corea on the album: ‘America’, part of ‘Continents’, a concerto for jazz quintet and chamber orchestra. This fascinating mix of Jazz, Latin and Classical opens up new sounds for Corea and got enthusiastic reviews when recorded and released in 2012.
Corea’s intro to ‘The New Waltz’ is mesmerizing in its soulfulness and sets the tone for the rest of the band, especially sax player Bob Berg following the master’s lead in melodic improvisations. The album ends with a track from Chick Corea’s third Montreux performance in 1981, featuring an all-star band. Chick had performed with drummer Roy Haynes and tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson before, but never with both of them together and the addition of bass player Gary Peacock rounds up an outstanding line up. Their version of Thelonious Monk’s ‘Trinkle Tinkle’ (vinyl format only) is not only a wonderful tribute to the great composer and pianist, Monk, but as well a powerful statement of four musicians about how exciting jazz can be: tight ensemble-play and outstanding individual contributions by all four artists, make this one of the highlights on the record. Joe Henderson simply sounds amazing, Peacock and Haynes giving heartbeat and a solid base for Chick and Joe to improvise on and they inspire each other to incredible results.
Chick Corea: ‘The Montreux Years’ manages to portrait not only the featured artist, but as well the festival, which allowed him to perform in all these different groupings. It is tribute to one of the most important artists of our time, as well as to his friend Claude Nobs, the soul of the Montreux Jazz Festival. This is going to be an album I will listen to many times in the future, remembering the moments I spent with Chick Corea and the concerts I was lucky enough to hear. The soundtrack of my life is expanding with this new live compilation.