Get ye down to Catalina’s this week if Chick Corea’s Spanish heart rings your chimes. The quick-changing, ever-evolving pianist-composer is busy fusing another combination of Latin-tinged ingredients with his latest band, Touchstone. And despite the modest disclaimer by Chick that they are “rehearsing” live, they came out sounding polished and smoking from the get-go Monday night.
In fact, Touchstone has been performing for a while, since three of Paco de Lucia’s musicians — flutist/saxophonist Jorge Pardo, bassist Carles Benavent and percussionist Ruben Dantas — joined Corea onstage in Madrid in November 2003. They toured Europe and even recorded a double live album, “Rhumba Flamenco,” which is not due out for several months (although “pre-release” copies were available for sale at Monday’s gig).
“Rhumba Flamenco” indeed is a fair if skeletal description of what Corea’s current band — expanded to a sextet for a few days with the addition of reedman Tim Garland — is up to. The base is still Corea’s lyrical, elaborate compositional style, but with elements of Andalusian flamenco mixed in — particularly the solea-related march rhythm that marks the opening and closing of the lengthy leadoff piece “Touchstone” — as well as Brazilian, Afro-Cuban and post-bop jazz flavors.
It’s a fascinating stew almost by definition, but what made it really special was the strong material — often retooled from earlier Corea projects (“Blanca con Puntillo” used to be called “Waltse”) — and the superb rounds of solos. In prime form, Corea often channeled his huge technique into simple yet profound territory, coming up with one beautiful, highly melodic, searching piano solo after another.
Pardo got in some brilliant, sailing flute solos, while Garland shuttled between the bass clarinet, flute and tenor sax in pretty much the same style.
Benavent approaches the five-string electric bass in a completely personalized way, with darting flamenco touches and not even a hint of predictable funk.
Best of all were the encores, a disarmingly lovely dialogue between Corea’s right hand and Dantas’ kalimba, followed by an excursion that revived and revamped the breezy grooves of Corea’s first Return to Forever band.
It bears repeating: Get ye down to Catalina’s, for Chick will probably be into something different next time.