Oddly, Corea’s personal triumph came in the guise of an homage to yet another pianist, Bud Powell, whose recording of “Parisian Thoroughfare” could be heard over the sound system as a ghostly prelude. With Powell’s repertoire as a launching pad, Corea fielded an all-star quintet that had absolutely no weaknesses, each member rousing the next to astoundingly high levels of performance.
Oddly enough, all except bassist Christian McBride had played with Miles Davis, and after stating Powell’s tunes, they worked them out in a broiling mid-’60s Miles fashion. Corea played touchingly this night, with crystalline phrasing and inventive musical logic; clearly he was an inspired man in this setting. One could also bask in the sheer joy of Roy Haynes’ shifting, fluid drums; McBride’s melodic bop solos; Kenny Garrett’s thoughtful use of space on alto; and Wallace Roney’s clean, forthright evocation of several trumpeters of the past.
Hancock’s long set, by contrast, tried to look to the future in terms of repertoire and talent. For about half an hour, he and Rubalcaba launched a series of complex, atonal/polytonal duets on dueling Steinways, with Hancock often laying back and letting his Cuban partner rip away with his dazzling technique. Yet all too frequently, we merely heard rapid, unfocused streams of notes in between passages of real beauty.
With his own quartet, Hancock crusaded in the direction of his latest album “The New Standard” (Verve), trying to inject recent tunes by rock composers into the jazz mainstream. Great idea, but there are better Prince tunes to explore than the listless funk of “Thieves in the Temple.” Hancock rose to his full rhetorical powers only in Stevie Wonder’s “You’ve Got It Bad, Girl.” Dave Holland’s commanding lines on electric and acoustic basses helped a lot, and he was given a co-leader showcase on “Dream of the Elders.”