Chick Corea has done more to shape the course of popular music over the past 50 years than anyone will ever truly know. He started his career in the 1960s, playing with such jazz greats as Mongo Santamaria, Stan Getz and Roy Haynes. When he joined Miles Davis’ group later in the decade, Corea found himself at the forefront of what would come to be known as the jazz fusion movement. His groundbreaking experimentation with electric instruments was immortalized on works such as Davis’ Bitches Brew and In a Silent Way albums.
Corea then went on to form his own pioneering group, Return to Forever, which combined elements of free jazz, Latin jazz and rock in an unprecedented way. He’s also led a prolific solo career, which spans over 50 years and more than 20 Grammy Awards. Some of his original compositions, such as “500 Miles High” and “Spain,” have been adopted as jazz standards. Corea’s work has been sampled by countless hip-hop and electronic artists; something that he doesn’t seem to mind. “It’s just another technique,” he says. “The importance is the quality of the communication that results from its use.”
This Friday, Corea and his trio play at the Barclay Theatre on the UC Irvine campus. The trio, which consists of Brian Blade on the drums and Christian McBride on the bass, will also be releasing their second full-length album, Trilogy 2, via Concord Records the same day. The album features tracks that were recorded live throughout the trio’s last world tour and includes everything from American jazz standards to re-imaginings of Corea’s earlier compositions.
Although the jazz trio is, by nature, a much more stripped-down format than a full-on orchestra or fusion band, the music on Trilogy 2 is innovative and genre-bending. Their reworking of Corea’s classic, “500 Miles High” shows how an electric fusion song can be adapted for traditional, acoustic instruments without sacrificing any of its intricacies. McBride, who’s recorded on more than 300 albums, with everyone from The Roots to Wynton Marsalis, plucks thick, complex bass lines that are always in motion. Blade, who’s played with the likes of Joni Mitchell, John Patitucci and Wayne Shorter, and led his own band, Brian Blade Fellowship, for more than 20 years, plays melodies and textures that most other drummers can only dream of.
Together, Blade and McBride are an impeccable rhythm section that improvise with sound and space alongside Corea. Each musician in the trio is a virtuosic player on their own, but they share a connection that makes them a musical force to be reckoned with. “Every musician I’ve ever made music with is unique unto himself and herself,” Corea explains. “No comparison is possible or appropriate. This is the joy of music and the joy of living. Each of us is a unique world. The challenge and the game is in the excitement of combining ourselves into groups that share a common purpose and can enjoy causing a beautiful effect together.”
There’s no telling what the Chick Corea Trio might play this Friday. Of course, they’ll probably play a few tracks from the new album, but much of the set will revolve around improvisation. “[We’ll play] some standards, some brand new–but everything NEW each moment,” Corea says.
This inventive spirit is what has kept Chick Corea relevant for over half a century. As someone who led the jazz fusion movement, he’s never stopped evolving. Regardless of what style he’s playing or who he’s playing it with, he creates fearlessly. “[It] seems to me that all music, in fact every art form, forms up as a kind of fusion of elements,” he says. “‘Fusion’ is the definition of culture. It’s the way a society advances from generation to generation.”
Chick Corea Trio at the Barclay Theatre, 4242 Campus Dr, Irvine, (949) 854-4646; thebarclay.org. Fri., 8 p.m., $50-$100.