How do you sum up the protean musical life of Chick Corea in just one evening? You would need a festival lasting weeks to cover the bewildering variety of directions this man has explored over the last 40 years. Even so, this taste of Chick at the Hollywood Bowl was the jazz smash hit of the summer so far, one of those rare birds that promised much, delivered more and left you wanting much more.
Besides Corea’s own prodigious gifts on acoustic and electric keyboards — fluidly stamped with his harmonic and linear signatures in several idioms — the most startling thing about the concert was the rapport that flourished among Corea groups that haven’t played regularly in 10, 20, even 30 years.
For a start, the inspired chemistry between the disarmingly casual pianist, now 61, and vibraphonist Gary Burton reignited instantly in “Love Castle” and continued through “Crystal Silence” and a brilliant acoustic version of “Senor Mouse,” with both constructing intricate toccatas that never got in each other’s way.
Without missing a beat, the acoustic Three Quartets band of the early ’80s — with Corea on grand piano, bassist Eddie Gomez, drummer Steve Gadd and Michael Brecker’s burning tenor sax — plunged into a set of driving, disciplined combustion. Corea still plays lots of notes, but every one had a place and direction, and Gadd sounded especially loose, thundering and underplaying in exactly the right proportions.
Undaunted by the surrounding vintage star power, the Elektric Band of the late ’80s proved that it belongs right up there with Corea’s best, with altoist Eric Marienthal, John Patitucci on six-string bass, rock-flavored guitarist Frank Gambale and Dave Weckl’s flashy drums delivering a powerful set of 1980s electric jazz rock. Here, Corea strapped on a Yamaha KX portable synth and joined the front line.
Going way back to 1972, four of the five members of the first fabled Return to Forever band (plus Brecker filling in for the late Joe Farrell) produced a convincing facsimile of their floating Brazilian-streaked idiom — with Corea revisiting his liquid-sounding Rhodes electric piano, Stanley Clarke making a surprise cameo on standup bass, Flora Purim experiencing some vocal distress, alas, and Airto Moreira drumming up a storm.
Finally, with the hourglass emptying rapidly, everyone scrambled to pull off a truncated all-star rendition of “Spain” just before curfew struck.