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5 Peace Band - March 25, 2009 - Paramount Theatre
The most obvious element of the 5 Peace Band is the reunion of Chick Corea and John McLaughlin, together for the first substantial time since their days with Miles Davis 40 years ago recording “In a Silent Way” and “Bitches Brew.” But expecting a retrospective of those days from this band would be a mistake. Corea and McLaughlin have been around the musical world dozens of times since then, both literally and influence-wise. That and the other band members push the whole group in new directions.
If a pigeon hole is required, the 5 Peace Band’s music probably fits most easily into “fusion.” Certainly, elements of Corea’s Return to Forever and McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra play prominent roles. But there’s more; more world music influences, more blues, more bebop. Most of all, it’s simply a pleasure listening to five top flight musicians playing at the highest level of technical ability with intensity, hope and, above all, joy.
The band also includes Kenny Garrett on alto sax, another Miles alum. He’s worked in a smorgasbord of idioms mainly as a band leader in recent years. Christian McBride on bass has worked mainly in jazz, but he’s no stranger to funk, fusion, pop and classical music. Drummer Vinnie Colaiuta has spent much of his time on the rock side of fusion, working with musicians such as Frank Zappa, Jeff Beck, Sting and Joni Mitchell. But he’s also worked the jazz side with folks like Herbie Hancock, the Buddy Rich Big Band and Quincy Jones.
Obviously, this is a band of musicians who have attained the highest level of skill on their instruments. With this crew, intricate, complex and rapid playing are all expected. They delivered in those departments, but their playing was also highly musical, an aspect that sets them apart from other skilled players that may strive only to set new land-speed records. The opener, “Raju,” written by McLaughlin, was a case in point. That one was somewhat similar to Return to Forever’s “Romantic Warrior” with a little faster tempo, but the theme was nicely melodic with microbursts of virtuosic intensity played in unison by the sax, guitar and keys with plenty of room for exploratory solos. Another McLaughlin tune, “Old Blues, New Bruise” provided some of the most emotional soloing of the evening, mainly from Garrett. That tune had some similarities to a traditional blues tune, was in 3/4 and the band performed it at a slower tempo than most of the material, making Garrett’s anguished, searching cries all the more poignant.
The group threw in Jackie McLean’s “Dr. Jackyll” for some bona fide bebop. Corea’s “Hymn for Andromeda” was a real highlight. That one was a mini symphony with several different movements, starting slow and building to a climax. Toward the end, the band hit a one chord groove and Garrett stepped out with a frantic solo that threatened to transport the audience to another galaxy. For the encore, Corea and McLaughlin got back to the roots of their association with “In a Silent Way/It’s About That Time.” They’ve been playing that for most of their shows on this tour, but they’ve omitted it occasionally. Wednesday night’s rendition was somewhat abridged at only about 10 minutes or so (compared to the 20 minute version on their live album). That tune is such a classic, it would have been a pity not to hear it at all, so a shortened version was absolutely better than missing it altogether.
Despite the flash of the playing, the musicians were fairly minimalist with their instruments. McLaughlin stuck to a single guitar all night. Corea played a grand piano, a Yamaha electric piano and a synthesizer. Garrett stayed with the same alto sax all night. McBride switched only between an acoustic bass and a five string electric. Even Colaiuta had a relatively stripped down drum kit: bass, snare, three toms, trap cymbal and a half dozen other cymbals.
Corea spent much of the evening on the acoustic piano, especially during some extended introductions on songs like “The Disguise” and “Hymn for Andromeda.” Of course working in somewhat of a fusion motif, he also turned his attention to the electric piano and laid down several synthesized solos that could have jumped right off an RTF record. McLaughlin is a master of casual intensity. Just about a year ago, Corea came through town with the Return to Forever reunion featuring Al DiMeola on guitar. He’s another rapid fire player and he and McLaughlin have played together over the years, often in an acoustic format with fellow guitarist Paco DeLucia. In any event, DiMeola’s style of playing looks like a spider frantically jumping around the fret board. Whereas DiMeola’s fingers are separated much of the time, giving him the spider look, the fingers on McLaughlin’s left hand general stay close together. The visual effect is of someone simply drumming their fingers on a table, but of course multiple cubic yards of notes are flying out of his guitar.
Maybe it’s just the nature of the horn (the only one in the band), but Garrett seemed to consistently wring the most emotion from his instrument. Being a single note (at a time) instrument, the alto sax sat out except during the arranged parts of the songs and during solos. But when he did play, Garrett got the attention of everyone, audience and fellow band members. McBride and Colaiuta were not just beat keepers, they established an underlying intensity throughout the show. McBride’s typical accompaniment was more complex than most bass solos. When he did solo, he displayed a sense of melody not often heard during such breaks. Colaiuta seemed to be an entire percussion section all on his own. He consistently pounded out intricate polyrhythms over, under and around the whole band.
This is a band that was not just going through the motions. They came to play. Their first set went for about an hour. After a short intermission, they came back and played for another 90 minutes. Between the intensity and the endurance, it was a real display of chops. And I loved it. So consider this Confessions of a Chopaholic.
New Blues, Old Bruise
Hymn to Andromeda
In a Silent Way / It’s About That Time