Live Music: Chick Corea, Gary Burton and the Harlem String Quartet at the Valley Performing Arts Center

BY DON HECKMAN

One of the great pleasures of attending a Chick Corea performance is the anticipatory awareness that his omnivorous musical interests will always bring something new and compelling to every show.

On Saturday night at the gorgeous new Valley Performing Arts Center at CSUN, he did it again, this time in the company of vibraphonist Garry Burton.  The foundation of the performance was the rich musicality of the four decades long creative relationship between Corea and Burton.  With the added twist provided by the four gifted members of the Harlem String Quartet – violinists Ilmar Gavilan and Melissa White, violist Juan Miguel Hernandez and cellist Paul Wiancko.  Along with an impressive display of Corea’s ability to compose and arrange for a string quartet in a fashion embracing the unique qualities of both jazz and classical music.

Chick Corea and Gary Burton

The show opened with the featured duo – Corea and Burton.  For this listener, an evening full of vibraphone can lose its powers of interest in fairly rapid fashion.  But not when the instrument is in the hands of such talented practitioners as Terry Gibbs, Milt Jackson, Bobby Hutcherson and, of course, Burton.

Gary Burton

Blessed with virtuosic skills, Burton rarely places those skills at the service of high speed malletry (is there such a word?), preferring instead to emphasize rich, multi-layered expressiveness.  So, too, for Corea, whose musical diversity has been on major display since his early years with Miles Davis, Circle and his own Return to Forever.  Over the course of their long association, Burton and Corea have continually found common ground in the full range of their musical interests.  By now – as was vividly apparent in this concert – the intuitive interaction between them verges into the arena of symbiotic music making.

Chick Corea

The first few selections – the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby,” Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Chega de Saudade,”  “Hothouse” (a bebop classic, and the title track from the new Corea/Burton CD) as well as Corea originals “ Crystal Silence” and “Alegria”  – identified a small part of the duo’s mutual range of interests.  And what was most fascinating was the new perspectives they brought to each, while remaining firmly in touch with the essence of the originals.

When they were joined by the Harlem String Quartet in the second half of the program, even more musical perspectives were opened.  The first piece, the Waltz from Corea’s Lyric Suite for Sextet, perfectly blended piano and vibraphone into a rich, musically articulate conversation combining the full vocabulary of the String Quartet with the colorful timbres and rhythmic drive of Corea’s piano and Burton’s vibes.

Corea’s “Adventures of Hippocrates (the Fifth Movement only), performed by the String Quartet alone, was a different kind of revelation.  Reaching far beyond his jazz roots, Corea has crafted a work brimming over with rich musical complexities.  Played superbly by the HSQ, it emerged as a work fully deserving of a place in the lexicon of contemporary string quartet music.

Add to that, “Mozart Goes Dancing,” a delightfully whimsical Corea piece, also heard on the Hot House CD.  Topping off this continuously engaging program, the instrumentalists were joined by the lovely voice and touching songwriting of Gayle Moran – Corea’s wife and a veteran of musical encounters embracing the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Return to Forever and beyond.

IRoM has reviewed Chick Corea in several different settings over the past few years —  at Catalina’s with Stanley Clarke and Jack DeJohnette, at the Hollywood Bowl with Stevie Wonder, Chaka Khan, Stanley Clarke, Lennie White, Jean-Luc Ponty and others.  And at Royce Hall in a previous performance with Gary Burton.

This concert, like those earlier appearances, was an evening filled with music to remember – the basic guarantee a listener can expect and will receive from every Chick Corea program, including the very special partnerships with Gary Burton.

Photos by Bonnie Perkinson.

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