John McLaughlin / Chick Corea
Five Peace Band
April 28, 2009
The chance to experience the evolution of a one-time group over the course of a single tour is a rare one. Even if a live album is released, it's more often than not recorded towards the end of the tour, capturing the group at its supposed best. For legendary artists Chick Corea and John McLaughlin, however, it's no surprise to expect the unexpected. The keyboardist and guitarist have been touring with their Five Peace Band since the fall of 2008, and rather than waiting until the end of the tour to record, they documented some of the group's earliest shows, releasing them on the double-disc Five Peace Band Live (Stretch Records, 2009).
As good as those early shows were, the quintet's performance in Montreal, Canada on April 28, 2009 (sponsored by the Festival International de Jazz de Montreal) demonstrated the benefits of clocking up a lot of performances in a concentrated period of time. While there was much to compare to the live album, there was also plenty that was different, the most obvious being Brian Blade in the drum chair rather than Vinnie Colaiuta, who played on the early part of the tour. Both are exceptionally flexible and virtuosic players, but Colaiuta is more closely tied to conventional fusionthough he's proving, more and more these days, that he's equally capable of a lighter approach. Still, he's largely about fierce groove and powerhouse fills: an arena drummer operating in the world of jazz.
By contrast, Blade has always been capable of similar powerhouse drumming in addition to far greater subtlety, but more often in looser, more open-ended ways that have made him the drummer of choice for freer-thinking groups like Wayne Shorter's quartet in addition to singer/songwriters like Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan, not to mention his own Fellowship Band, last documented on Season of Changes (Verve, 2008) and his debut as a singer/songwriter, Mama Rosa (Verve, 2009).
The change of a single membercoupled with the greater comfort level and deeper chemistry of a group nearing the end of a total of five months touringcan often significantly alter the complexion of a band, and while there was much to compare between the performance and live album, the Blade version of Five Peace Band veered farther away from more conventional fusion towards a place where the energy of electric instruments entered a more liberated improvisational place.
Less about soloing over firm structure (though there was plenty of form to be found) and more about using Corea and McLaughlin's compositions as leaping off points for an "anything goes" musical aesthetic, the Montreal show might have disappointed more fervent fusion fans. But for those disposed to hearing a group take innumerable riskssome working better than others, to be sure, but all of them well worth experiencingthe performance couldn't have been better. Playing for over three hours (including a brief intermission), Five Peace Bandwhich also features über-bassist Christian McBride and Miles Davis alum/saxophonist Kenny Garretttook six of the eight tunes on Five Peace Band Live and stretched them beyond belief, with Corea's already lengthy and oblique "Hymn to Andromeda" expanding from 27 minutes to well over 40.
l:r: Chick Corea, John McLaughlin, Christian McBride, Brian Blade, Kenny Garrett
Garrett's capacity to build solos to fever pitch remained intact, with his by now almost signature ability to take a single note and work it to the point where, when he finally moved on, there was palpable cathartic relief in the audience, a strength within the group that countered McLaughlin's lengthy, high velocity lines. But Garrett also played with considerably greater restraint, especially on Corea's "The Disguise," the most (at times) overtly swinging tune of the set. And his alto meshed almost completely with McLaughlin's often overdriven tone, creating a distinctive single voice that would then break off again to two discrete personalities for potent solos on McLaughlin's high octane "Raju."
McBride stayed mostly with electric bass, although he did contribute some lyrical arco on his acoustic during the lengthy intro to "Hymn to Andromeda." On electric he was a perfect foil for McLaughlin, countering the guitarist's lean phrases with lightning fast lines of his own, even as he managed to keep the groove moving forward relentlessly on the slower, more visceral pulse of McLaughlin's "New Blues, Old Bruise."