Chick Corea and Gary Burton at the Barbican, London
Thursday 12 April 2012
“We knew we’d get you with that one,” claims Chick Corea after sustained applause for “Eleanor Rigby”, a track that’s been covered over 140 times by such luminaries as Shirley Bassey, Ray Charles and Ethel the Frog.
Did the world really need another version? Probably not, but Corea and Gary Burton’s intricate, adroit take on The Beatles’ mordant masterpiece is a highlight tonight at this freewheeling and generous two-hours-plus concert.
“We’ve been together for 40 years, so come on give us something on that,” Corea teases us before a single note’s been played, and the hugely appreciative crowd do, whooping. The slim, veteran pianist Corea, who started out in the 1960s playing with, among many others, Stan Getz and Miles Davis, started his fruitful collaboration with virtuoso vibraphonist Gary Burton in the early 1970s, cementing their credentials with their landmark jazz album Crystal Silence in 1972.
Their latest offering, released this month, is Hot House, which explores “standards” by the likes of Antonio Carlos Jobim, Thelonious Monk, Lennon & McCartney and Kurt Weill. And it’s clear why this versatile pair have stuck together so long. The Scientology-loving 70-year-old Corea and the precise, porkier 69-year old Burton appear to be totally simpatico, complementing each other perfectly on such gems as the Art Tatum rarity “Can’t We Be Friends?”, Thelonious Monk’s later work “Light Blue” and Dave Brubeck’s hypnotic “Strange Meadow Lark”.
There’s a giddy quantity of chord changes and exhilarating shifts of tempo from Corea, but also lot of gratification to be had in Burton’s incisive, evocative playing, especially on “Native Sense” (from their 1997 collaboration Native Sense), which is music to soundtrack an 1980s urban thriller too, starring, perhaps, someone like a louche Dennis Quaid.
While Corea weaves dark, dense melodies, Burton provides a lighter timbre. Together, the affable duo (they’re studiously polite, nodding to each other after every song, sometimes even holding hands) are steeped in every kind of music, covering bebop, avant-garde, fusion and even chamber music during their two sets. At the start of their rousing second set they deliver a gorgeous version of Alexander Scriabin’s “Prelude No 2”, followed by Bartok’s “Bagatelle No 2”. It’s no ordinary jazz concert.
As a treat towards the end of this cheerful occasion the British saxophonist Tim Garland joins the pair for “a jam”, in which a frenzied Burton sensationally wigs out on his vibraphone, hammering the instrument like a hyperactive four-year-old. And Garland stays on for a splendid final number, “Blue Monk”. The applause is long and prolonged.
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