Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Five "Peaces" + 7 Pieces + 3 Hours = Amazing

Looking back, there really was nothing that could have kept me from going to this concert. Let's look at the lineup: Chick Corea (that alone would send me there), John McLaughlin (a legend I'd never gotten to see before), Kenny Garrett (it's been four years since I saw him last), Christian McBride (saw him a year ago, but he's one of my favorite bassists) and Brian Blade (have seen him in multiple settings, always fun to watch). Each one is a leader in his own right, and the prospect of hearing them in the same group seemed exciting. They're performing together as the Five Peace Band, and I was really happy that they decided to come to Dallas, seeing as how I'd pondered a whirlwind trip to the Flynn Center in Vermont before the Texas leg of the tour was announced.

It's easy to be skeptical of the "supergroup" concept; just because certain players are amazing individually doesn't guarantee that they can form a cohesive unit, but it seems like supergroups fall flat more often in rock music (where people tend to be more strongly identified with a specific group) than in jazz (where playing in multiple groups simultaneously is pretty much a way of life). And besides, it's not as if parts of this group haven't played together before: Garrett and McBride joined Corea on the Remembering Bud Powell CD; McBride toured in a trio setting with Corea a few years back (including a Dallas stop that I discussed here, Blade played on Garrett's Triology and Pursuance CDs. And of course, Corea and McLaughlin go back forty years now, all the way back to Miles Davis' legendary In a Silent Way recording. So the various strands of familiarity between the guys were bound to unite them into a true band, and I'm happy to say that such a thing happened very nicely.

Another sign that this was a true band: They didn't play anyone's "hits" tonight; there was no "Spain" or "Sing a Song of Song" to be found. Everything that I heard tonight, save for the encore, was unfamiliar to me (I know McLaughlin much better as a player rather than a composer, and he accounted for nearly half the compositions tonight; also, one of Corea's tunes was brand new), which added to the concept of this being a band and not just a collection of legends. (Since the tunes were new to me, and McLaughlin's British accent and slightly muffled delivery made him hard to understand at times, I didn't catch the names of most of the tunes while I was there. But thankfully, the band posts its set lists on the website once a show is over, so the missing pieces can come together in time for this review.)

The band has been touring since last year, starting in Europe (with Vinnie Colauita holding down the drum chair until a few weeks ago), and that tour has already been chronicled on a CD that was for sale at the gig. Had I known that it was not available in "terrestrial" form except at that booth, I might have picked one up, but it will be released over here on April 28 (it appears to have already come out in Europe). In the meantime, if you can't wait that long, Amazon has it as a download already, and a listen to the sample page will give you a very small idea of what was played last night.

With a collection of talent like this, the tunes run long--very long, in some cases, but it hardly seemed like any time had passed at all during either set. The first set, lasting an hour, consisted of three tunes, which also happened to be the first three on the CD: McLaughlin's "Raju," Corea's "The Disguise" and McLaughlin's "New Blues Old Bruise." After a 30-minute intermission, the band returned with McLaughlin's "Señor CS," followed by what McLaughlin described as a "magnum opus" from Corea, "Hymn to Andromeda." (It was amusing to hear the latter called a magnum opus, because "Señor CS" had itself taken 35 minutes. And due to his quietness on the mic, I thought that McLaughlin was calling it "Hymn to a Drummer.") The band closed the set with Jackie McLean's "Dr. Jackie" (McLaughlin quipped, "Since we're at the House of Blues, we'd better play a blues"), and returned for an encore with an abbreviated version of "In A Silent Way/It’s About That Time."

But I must reiterate that, despite the length of the tunes, they never seemed long. These guys have a lot to say on their instruments, and it's all worth hearing. Despite the potential for a meeting like this to degenerate into a complete chops-fest, the band showed quite a bit of versatility; indeed, of the five players, only McLaughlin could occasionally be accused of using technique to the point of overkill, and even that wasn't the case all the time. The dimension of the band changed dramatically when Corea moved to the grand piano and McBride switched to the upright bass (on which, I must say again, he has one of my favorite sounds of anyone alive; I first noted this in a Pat Metheny Trio review from a little over a year ago). Blade is fun to watch, and he seemed even more animated and rubber-limbed than on previous occasions; he also managed to provide a great deal of intensity at even the softest volumes. Garrett--always one of my favorite alto players--brought the whole package: simple figures done in interesting ways (such as his trademark "out" pentatonics), the occasional bleats and squeals, and solos that started softly and whipped the audience into a frenzy by the time he was done. His alto also combined with McLaughlin's guitar for a cool melodic texture on several tunes, seamlessly matching the old master note for note on even the most complicated passages.

It's hard to believe that I actually considered not attending this show for the sole reason that nobody else was able to go with me. As I should have guessed, a pretty significant chunk of the DFW area music community was in attendance, and I was among friends from almost the moment I walked in the door. The meeting of this group of legends sounded like a one-off (I had no idea they'd been touring for so long and already been recorded), so as it drew closer, it turned into a can't-miss occasion. It amazed me that there were still tickets on sale on the day of the show, but I'm glad there were. Check this out if it comes to your town; you won't regret it.

Venue review redux: This was my first trip to the House of Blues since a Tower of Power concert nearly two years ago, and many of my first impressions had not changed. Parking? Convenient and well-lit. Prices? Expensive ($38.50 plus "convenience" fees for the standing-only area). Security? Still wanding everyone on the way in (which seemed like overkill until one of my friends mentioned this guy he knew who was dismayed that he had to return his gun to his car before being allowed in). The main difference was that the standing-room area, which extended all the way to the stage for ToP, was much more limited this time, with the front area being populated by folding chairs and a much higher ticket price. (I'm not sure if they did this because they wanted to make even more money, or if they had opened up the front area at ToP to accommodate dancing. I also realize that the answer to that question could be "Yes.") The view where I stood was just obstructed enough that I couldn't see the entire band; my view of Corea was blocked more than anyone else, but I could see him if I shifted a bit, and even more easily when he played the top keyboard on his rack.

My only complaint had to do more with some of my fellow concertgoers than the venue itself; there were some people who persisted in talking during the most inappropriate times, such as McBride's bass solos and the slow acoustic piano intro to "Hymn to Andromeda." I'm not of the physical build or boldness to confront someone like that, but it was irritating to those of us who didn't pay almost fifty bucks to hear a couple of drunk guys yakking. I'm sure that this problem is less apparent in venues that are completely sit-down in nature, so maybe next time, I'll just have to throw down for an actual seat.

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