“Solo piano is lonely,” says Chick Corea, though the legendary pianist is in good company throughout the solo performances captured on this captivating new double album. On Plays, set for release on August 28, 2020 via Concord Jazz, Corea engages with several of his favorite composers, representing a wide swath of musical history – as well as with enthusiastic audiences in concert halls across Europe and the U.S., who become integral collaborators in these spirited renditions.
While Corea’s solo explorations are as exploratory and inventive as ever, the tone on Plays is decidedly communal. That comes from the jazz great’s warm and witty dialogues with his audience, but also from the way he makes connections with the iconic composers whose work he celebrates. He also places these composers in conversation with one another, pairing favorite pieces in such a way that surprising commonalities are revealed that bridge styles, genres and eras from Mozart to the moment at hand.
“I’m part of a lineage,” Corea explains. “The thing that I do is similar to what Monk did, to what Bill Evans and Duke Ellington did, and moving back into another era of music, what Bach and Mozart and Beethoven did. These were all pianists who were composers at heart, who gathered their own musicians together to play. I feel so proud to be a part of that tradition.”
The composers featured on Plays represent the wide spectrum of Corea’s keyboard influences. He delves far back into the classical repertoire for pieces by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Domenico Scarlatti, Alexander Scriabin and Frédéric Chopin that alone represent 300 years of musical history.
The composers featured on Plays represent the wide spectrum of Corea’s keyboard influences. He delves far back into the classical repertoire for pieces by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Domenico Scarlatti, Alexander Scriabin and Frédéric Chopin that alone represent 300 years of musical history. His formative jazz influences include Bill Evans and, of course, Thelonious Monk, with the bossa nova beauty of Antônio Carlos Jobim adding the always-important Latin tinges that have long accented Corea’s music. The Great American Songbook offers the Gershwins and Jerome Kern, while Stevie Wonder appears to hint at a more modern pop sensibility.
Plays, naturally, is rich with Corea’s unparalleled piano mastery, the latest thrilling evolution in a storied career that’s lasted more than half a century. But it also offers the rare opportunity to watch the composer at work: on a pair of “Portraits,” Corea spontaneously paints tone poems of a pair of audience volunteers. The exercise has its origins in a childhood game played by the pianist and his cousins at family gatherings. In its more refined form, the composer finds inspiration in the visages of his subjects for the lovely, elegant “Henrietta” and the sly, robust “Chris.”