Chick Corea‘I hope you don’t mind if I chew gum,’ said Chick Corea as he started his introductions of the band. It was a rhetorical question. Who would care what he did, this US legend of fusion music, the keyboard player that replaced Herbie Hancock in Mile Davis’s band in 1968? It was also a mark of how relaxed he was on stage after forty-five years of performing. He has been calling all the shots for a long time now.

Judging from his performance at the Hamer Hall on Saturday, Corea, at the age of 65, has lost none of the energy and urge to innovate that has always marked his stellar musicianship. His compositions cross all genres of music and his keyboard playing is a fusion of classical, rock and jazz. His enthusiasm for improvising on these tunes is boundless and attracts the best of talent wherever he goes.

At this two-hour concert, part of Melbourne Jazz International festival 2007, Corea performed six of his compositions on grand piano and keyboards, with guitarist Frank Gambale, bassist Tal Wilkenfeld and drummer Antonio Sanchez.

Gambale was born in Canberra and made his name in America. In a casual, generous manner, Corea introduced Gambale as ‘my favourite guitarist in the world’. They worked together in the 1980s in Corea’s The Elektric Band. Gambale seemed deceptively restrained, but his brilliance was evident when trading phrases with Corea’s pianos in the quiet passages of Eternal Child, a track recorded by The Elektric Band, and in Humpty Dumpty from The Mad Hatter album. This was an opportunity for Gambale and Sanchez to launch into a dazzling duet while Corea was busy with a technical hitch that put one of his keyboards out of action.

It is years since Corea played with Gambale and it is only recently that he has played with Sanchez. As for the 21-year-old Sydney-born Wilkenfeld, Corea invited her to play on his Australian gigs after seeing her play in New York. It was only at Bennett’s Lane in the run-up to this gig that they got to play together. As Corea stated at the beginning of the night, this was their second rehearsal – a musicians’ joke of course, since improvisation is the name of this game.

Given the novelty of the situation, all three musicians were intently focused on Corea. Sanchez was a picture of concentration, with his upper body poised over the spread of cymbals and drums as he crisply picked out rhythms, delineated phrasing and painted mood swings with unceasing sleight of sticks and soft mallets. Gambale would lie in wait, like a hawk, ready to make a killing when the time was right.

As for Wilkenfeld, she sat at her music stand with her bass guitar, eager to take every risk she could to make gorgeous music with the master. She provided a deep undercurrent of rhythm that echoed Corea’s phrasing and chord structures. Wilkenfeld started out as a guitarist before turning to the bass, and uses her left hand much as a guitarist would, fingering chords rather than single notes. This gives her a speed, versatility and eloquence that is remarkable, for anyone of any age. The audience responded warmly to her solos, particularly in the final number when she had Corea hand-clapping in synch with her rhythms and launching into his own solo that seemed inspired by hers.

The performance was an exciting rediscovery and exploration of music whose origins span several decades. The musicians brought emotional depth and a range of dynamics to every piece of music. Even the most frenetic number would usually resolve quietly, with a sense of peace and satisfaction. This performance gave new credibility to established artists and exposure to lesser-known but extraordinary talent.

Chick Corea & Frank Gambale
Part of the 2007 Melbourne International Jazz Festival

Venue: Hamer Hall, Melbourne
Dates/Times: 5 May 7.30pm
Duration: 2 hours
Tickets: $85-105
Bookings: Ticketmaster 1300 136 166

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