Jazz at 100 Hour 85: Chick Corea Acoustic and Electric (1966 – 1973)

Gary Burton – Chick Corea

Chick Corea began recording as a sideman for artists like Mongo Santamaria, Blue Mitchell, Herbie Mann and Cal Tjader in 1962. In 1966, his began to record as a leader, while still touring with Stan Getz. Like many others, his studio work and touring with Miles Davis from 1968 – 1970 raised his profile, leading him to a career that split between the newly emerging electric fusion music and acoustic pursuits.

Acoustic Music – The Early Years
“Corea’s stated ambition was to assimilate the ‘dancing’ qualities of jazz and folk musics to the more disciplined structures of classical music. He has written a half-dozen classic melodies, notably the much-covered ‘La Fiesta’, ‘Return To Forever’ and ‘Tones For Joan’s Bones’. Given that he had already been playing for 20 years, there is no reason to regard Tones as the work of a prodigy. Under no particular pressure to record as a leader, he approached the first session, produced by Herbie Mann, with a very relaxed attitude. That is evident in every track. The title-piece is a jazz classic and the opening ‘Litha’ deserves to be better known.” – Brian Morton & Richard Cook

Before Chick Corea formed his hugely successful fusion band, “he had proved himself an uncommonly gifted acoustic jazz player… in 1968, Corea recorded the classic trio album Now He Sings, Now He Sobs, which, much to his vexation, is still regarded as his finest work by musicians who studied his playing on it as assiduously as he had studied Bud Powell’s.” – Gary Giddins & Scott Deveaux

“The improvisation … is a sparkling, state-of-the-art example of what a truly integrated piano trio sounds like. Miroslav Vitous [later a founding member of Weather Report] on bass and Roy Haynes on drums synchronize their roles outstandingly with each other and the pianist. The controlled intensity displayed by all three performers is a perfect demonstration of what constitutes virtuosity. There is not the velocity and wild abandon that some people seem to expect in such a mood; rather there is an excitement that bubbles just under the surface, an excitement that only truly great players can achieve and sustain.” – Dick Katz
Tones For Joan’s Bones. Chick Corea Trio
(Chick Corea-p, Steve Swallow-b, Joe Chambers-d). From Tones For Joan’s Bones. 11/30/1966
Matrix. Chick Corea Trio
(Chick Corea-p, Miroslav Vitous-b, Roy Haynes-d). From Now He Sings, Now He Sobs. 3/14/1968. Smithsonian Collection of Jazz Piano

Return to Forever First Edition.
“Corea recorded Return To Forever for ECM [in February of 1972, and would subsequently use the name for his fusion group. The language was still jazz, though, even if the electric sound that came in with Bitches Brew and other records of the period is increasingly evident; Corea and Moreira had been involved with Miles’s electric evolution. Interestingly enough, the influence of Bud Powell (more formally acknowledged later) and, even more, Horace Silver is still obvious in these delicately swinging sessions. Return To Forever perturbed the bebop mafia… The inclusion of ‘Crystal Silence’ and ‘What Game Shall We Play Today?’ gave the LP some crossover appeal, but the jazz component was solid on ‘Return To Forever’ itself and the majestic climax of ‘Sometime Ago/La Fiesta’ with its abstract elements and flamenco tinges. Return wasn’t released in the US for some time, so Light As A Feather was effectively the group debut, and the first to use the band name. Thistledown it may be in some regards, but it’s a perennial favourite. … it is still Chick’s most engagingly approachable record. The leader bounces joyously and unselfconsciously throughout, transforming relatively simple themes like ‘500 Miles High’, ‘Captain Marvel’, and the ubiquitous ‘Spain’ and ‘Children’s Song’ into grand dancing processions. [Flora} Purim’s vocalizing is a perfect complement to [reed-player Joe] Farrell’s still underrated improvising, packed with quartal harmonies and unexpected note choices. An album almost impossible to dislike.” – Brian Morton & Richard Cook
What Game Shall We Play Today. Return To Forever
(Joe Farrell-ss/fl, Chick Corea-p, Stanley Clarke-b, Airto Moreira-d/per, Flora Purim-voc/per). From Return To Forever. 2/2 – 2/3/1972
Children’s Song. Chick Corea and Return To Forever
(Joe Farrell-ts/fl, Chick Corea-p, Stanley Clarke-b, Airto Moreira-d/per, Flora Purim-voc/per). From Light As A Feather. 10/8/1972
Spain. Chick Corea and Return To Forever
(Joe Farrell-ts/fl, Chick Corea-p, Stanley Clarke-b, Airto Moreira-d/per, Flora Purim-voc/per). From Light As A Feather. 10/8/1972

Crystal Silence.
“It’s a story that’s been told before, but it’s worth repeating. Pianist Chick Corea and vibraphonist Gary Burton were performing individually at a 1972 Munich festival, and ended up as the only two artists at a late night jam session. While the two had attempted working together in the 1960s, it was in a quartet context that never seemed to work—in no small part due to the challenge of combining two chordal instruments without getting in each other’s way. Curiously, without a rhythm section, there was an instantaneous simpatico that quickly caught the ear of ECM label head Manfred Eicher … Corea’s duet album of intimate chamber jazz with Burton was a perfect fit for ECM’s pristine and transparent approach to capturing sound, and so the two went into [the studio] on November 6, 1972, and recorded Crystal Silence in a single day. Despite the magic of Crystal Silence, there were no high expectations for its release. Burton … said that nobody expected the album to sell more than a few thousand copies, but surprisingly it caught on and has since become one of the label’s more popular titles, still doing well over [45] years after its release. It also turned into a career-long association for Corea and Burton, who continue to play together every year…” – John Kelman (All About Jazz)

“Burton has managed to internalize the Spanish and modal implications of Corea’s tunes with little difficulty, and solos with joyful ease through such tracks as ‘Señor Mouse.’ Corea himself is absolutely burning. His solo contribution on the same track is both fiery and introspective, combining in one statement the poles for which he is best-known.” – Daniel Gioffre (AllMusic)
Señor Mouse. Chick Corea – Gary Burton Duo
(Chick Corea-p, Gary Burton-vib/mar). From Crystal Silence. 11/6/1972
Children’s Song. Chick Corea – Gary Burton Duo
(Chick Corea-p, Gary Burton-vib/mar). From Crystal Silence. 11/6/1972
What Game Shall We Play Today? Chick Corea – Gary Burton Duo
(Chick Corea-p, Gary Burton-vib/mar). From Crystal Silence. 11/6/1972

Return To Forever Second Edition.
Chick Corea “formed the first of his groups known as Return to Forever in 1972. This band dabbled in fusion, mixing the Brazilian stylings of vocalist Flora Purim and her husband the percussionist Airto Moriera, with Corea’s electric piano and the mainstream saxophone and flute playing of Joe Farrell. Within a few years, though, after hearing Mahavishnu, Corea reconsidered his goal. “More than my experience with Miles, John’s band led me to want to turn the volume up and write music that was more dramatic and made you move.” … By the mid-1970s it was a vehicle for Corea’s disciplined composition in the context of Mahavishnu’s crowd pleasing volume and intensity.” – Gary Giddins & Scott Deveaux

“The following year, Corea formed an electric group called Return To Forever. Not to be confused with the group that made the ECM record.; only [bassist Stanley] Clarke remains. There is something very 70s about Hymn Of The Seventh Galaxy and Where Have I known You Before. Compared to the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Return To Forever was more of a dance group, and the very buoyancy of the music often glossed over its subtleties. Though both records sound dated … they retain much of the freshness and energy of the earlier acoustic band… “ – Brian Morton & Richard Cook
Captain Señor Mouse. Return To Forever Featuring Chick Corea
(Chick Corea-p/org/harps/gong, Bill Connors-g, Stanley Clarke-b/bells, Lenny White-d/per/cga/bgo). From Hymn Of The Seventh Galaxy. 8/1973

Return To Forever’s last recordings as a unit were in 1977, as Chick Corea moved on. His fruitful relationship with Gary Burton has resulted in five other recordings over the years and he has recorded constantly with many of the important players in modern jazz. At 77 years old he continues to tour and record.

By 1970, Wayne Shorter and Joe Zawinul were recognized as two of the finest hard bop composers and players having contributed the full range of their talents to The Jazz Messengers and Miles Davis Quintet (in Shorter’s case) and the Cannonball Adderley Quintet (in Zawinul’s). Both contributed to Davis’s Bitches Brew sessions and in 1971 formed the supergroup Weather Report, one of the most popular, influential and long-lived fusion bands. Weather Report, in the next hour of Jazz at 100.

Chick Corea. Tones for Joan’s Bones. Vortez LP 2004
Smithsonian Collection of Jazz Piano. Smithsonian Folkways Recordings 0391
Chick Corea. Now He Sings, Now He Sobs. Solid State SS 18039
Return To Forever. Return To Forever. ECM 1022
Chick Corea and Return To Forever. Light As A Feather. Polydor PD 5525
Chick Corea and Gary Burton. Crystal Silence. ECM 1024
Return To Forever Featuring Chick Corea. Hymn Of The Seventh Galaxy. Polydor PD 5536

Giddins, Gary & DeVeaux, Scott. 2009. JAZZ. New York, NY. WW Norton & Company.
Chapter 17. Fusion II: Jazz, Rock and Beyond
Gioffre, Daniel. “Gary Burton / Chick Corea – Crystal Silence.” All Music. https://www.allmusic.com/album/crystal-silence-mw0000198910
Gioia, Ted. The History of Jazz (pp. 328-329). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.
Chapter 8. Freedom and Fusion
Kelman, John. “Chick Corea / Gary Burton: Crystal Silence – The ECM Recordings 1972-79.” All About Jazz. 9/2/2009. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/chick-corea-gary-burton-crystal-silence-the-ecm-recordings-1972-79-by-john-kelman.php
Morton, Brian & Cook, Richard. 2011. Penguin Jazz Guide, the History of the Music in the 1001 Best Albums. New York, NY. Penguin Books.
Chick Corea. Tones For Joan’s Bones
Return To Forever. Light as a Feather
Morton, Brian & Cook, Richard. 2008. The Penguin Jazz Guide To Jazz Recordings, Ninth Edition. New York, NY. Penguin Books.

Annotated playlists and streaming links for all the Jazz at 100 broadcasts: Jazz at 100

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