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Chick Corea and Gary Burton at the Barbican
By Ivan Hewett (The Telegraph)
These days jazz is transforming itself in all kinds of ways, which is all to the good. But there’s still a special, innocent pleasure to be had from a straight-ahead jazz gig, with no claims to be “pushing the envelope”, when it’s done with superlative skill, wit and charm.
Which is exactly what pianist Chick Corea and vibes player Gary Burton offered here. They could simply have paraded their latest album, Hot House, but they did something more imaginative, combining numbers they first played in the 1980s with new material. What everything had in common was a sense of total ease. These two have been playing together so long they’ve become like those old married couples who finish each other’s sentences. The ensemble between them was uncanny. When their version of Bartok’s Bagatelle No 2 wound down like a clock-spring, each chord was placed with total unison.
The fact that a piece by Bartok appeared alongside familiar things like Art Tatum’s Can’t We Be Friends? showed that despite the familiarity of the idiom, these two are actually pushing the envelope in their own way. The range of tone and mood was vast, from the sly wit of Thelonious Monk’s Light Blue to the pastel-shaded melancholy of an early Scriabin prelude.
Yet one also felt a constant pull towards a Latin flavour. Corea is fond of a particular harmonic turn characteristic of flamenco, and he couldn’t help slipping it in everywhere, even in the piece entitled Mozart Goes Dancing (which was apparently based on a fragment of Mozart, but you could have fooled me).
The other thing that bound all this variety together was the sheer unstoppable invention of the players, expressed in a swirling yet lucid tangle of rapid-fire notes. Burton’s vibraphone looked small next to Corea’s grand piano, but he never seemed outgunned. This was partly due to Corea’s tact, but there was also a special focus to Burton’s playing, an energy that came from pushing against quite narrow limits. Perhaps that’s why my eye and ear were constantly drawn back to him.
But ultimately it was the sense of two old hands at the top of their game that made everyone rise to their feet at the end.
That, and a pleasing sense that the continuing vigour of “straight-ahead” jazz had just been magnificently affirmed. (04/11/2012)