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May 01, 2007

Cheese fest or Champions? Béla Fleck and Chick Corea


I'm breaking with the Eddie Palmeri kick. I really enjoy the idea of examining the Jazz Fest schedule an artist at a time, but ever since I heard of this duo, I've been bursting with questions.

Since my love affair with jazz fusion began, Chick Corea has been there. The first jazz album I fell in love with was Miles Davis' In a Silent Way. Chick Corea joins the jaw dropping line up of Herbie Hancock, John McLaughlin, Wayne Shorter, Joe Zawinul, Dave Holland and Tony Williams for this, considered the first of Miles Davis' fusion recordings.

Chick Corea went on to form Return to Forever, a whimsical fusion group who recorded through the 1970's in various forms. My favorite iterations of Return to Forever feature Brazilian born drummer Airto Moreira and his wife, vocalist Flora Purim. These are not albums I can listen to often, despite their charm. As the leader of these project, Chick Corea's tendency towards, as I refer to it, cheese, begins to show through. I will play these albums (check out 1972's Light as a Feather) when I have children. The playful Latin beats paired with Purim's unusual voice seems like perfect nursery music to me, but that is the next time in my life I plan on listening to these albums with any frequency.

With Chick Corea, we observe a phenomenon common among jazz fusion artists.  They excel when paired with other musicians of equal talent and status,  but when given too much creative control, the cheese factor grows exponentially.

On Crystal Silence, also released in 1972, vibraphonist and former president of Berklee School of Music, Gary Burton was the perfect balance for Mr. Corea. This album is my most prized of all my record collection. When I purchased it, the gentleman I bought it from asked me to come back in an hour before I bought it, when I returned, he was giving it one last listen. It was that hard for him to part with an album of this magnitude in perfect condition.

So here's my question: Will Béla Fleck's fast picking be enough to reign in Chick Corea. Or will this Flecktone fuel the phenomenon in question?

May 1, 2007 at 12:06 PM in Jill Kilpatrick | Permalink


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Chick Corea is a Scientologist cheese factory. Bela is a genius, but too much of a technician. I expect a farty fusion free-for-all somwhere between elevator music and an episode of "Buck Rogers."

There are far more interesting "fusion" acts out there right now. But they'll never be invited to BDJF.

Posted by: casey | May 2, 2007 10:32:15 AM

Casey - I'm never entirely certain what the word "fusion" means, but that's a topic for another day I suppose. I'm on the BDJF board, and I (for one) would very much like to know who you'd like to see booked at BDJF, "fusion" or not. We can't book 'em if you won't name 'em...

Please let us know who these "far more interesting fusion acts" are!

David Beckett

Posted by: David Beckett | May 11, 2007 12:52:45 PM

Well, you guys did have the Bad Plus back in 2004, right? That's pretty cool.

Fusion has always been a wide-open subgenre by definition. We could debate its relative characteristics for days, and never reach a consensus.

What I will say is this: The best fusion, from the era it is most closely associated with, obliterated the distinctions between chops-heavy rock, noise, free jazz and world music. Later, it became more of a codified thing, with chesseholes like The Yellowjackets and Spyro Gyra using turning a once bold movement into a Berklee-approved vehicle by which to shred scales and try out new factory synth tones.

But allow me to stop being Mr. Negitive Pants for a brief moment. I'd like to see Jaga Jazzist, Shining, Nels Cline, Ikue Mori, Fred Frith and Eyvind Kang, to name a few. They're not all necessarily jazz, they are all fusion acts in some respect.

I know I'm a bit out of my depths here as a dyed-in-the-wool "rockist," but I really can't cotton to Mr. Corea's recent "Dianetics in Space" jamz.

Posted by: casey | May 11, 2007 2:25:29 PM

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