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03.18.09

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Phaedra

Photograph by C. Taylor Crothers
Fused: Guitarist John McLaughlin (left) and keyboardist Chick Corea team up with Christian McBride, Kenny Garrett and Vinnie Colaiuta for a night of fusion jazz.

Chick-a-Boom

Fusion innovators Chick Corea and John McLaughlin explode into Santa Cruz with their new Five Peace Band.

By Andrew Gilbert


One of the proud pioneers of jazz/rock fusion, Chick Corea has never abandoned the oft-maligned musical genre. Ever since his tenure with Miles Davis in the late 1960s, when he contributed to the trumpeter's seminal plugged-in sessions In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew, Corea has pushed the outer aural limits with a battery of state-of-the-art keyboards.

Fresh on the heels of last year's Return to Forever tour, which reunited the turbo-charged band's most prodigious incarnation with guitarist Al DiMeola, bassist Stanley Clark and drummer Lenny White for the first time in more than three decades, Corea is joining forces with fellow fusion explorer John McLaughlin in the Five Peace Band for a 22-city North American tour that hits the Santa Cruz Civic on Monday in a concert produced by Kuumbwa Jazz Center.

"I have to take the blame for being the instigator," says Corea, 67, who recruited powerhouse alto saxophonist Kenny Garrett, the ubiquitous bass master Christian McBride and studio drum icon Vinnie Colaiuta as the other Peaces. "I'd wanted to do a project with John for a long time. My admiration for him is boundless. He's such an incredible creator and musician. I wanted to experience some of that rapport again."

The Five Peace Band, and an upcoming eponymous live recording documenting the recently concluded European tour with drummer Brian Blade, captures a rare convergence of the two peripatetic masters. Corea performed on the guitarist's excellent 1977 Sony album Electric Guitarist, and appears on a badly recorded live 1981 duo session included in the 17-disc Warner Bros. box set John McLaughlin: The Montreux Concerts.

In many ways, Corea and McLaughlin are kindred spirits, restlessly creative artists who have often confounded expectations by breaking up popular combos and striking out in new directions. Like Corea, McLaughlin made his mark with Miles Davis in the late '60s, and went on to found a definitive fusion ensemble, Mahavishnu Orchestra, that won a huge following in the early 1970s with its furious tempos, asymmetric structures and odd-metered tunes. It was an era when fusion combos competed with rock acts for fans and venues, and it wasn't unusual for Mahavishnu and Return to Forever to share the same bill.

"I remember sitting in the audience for a Mahavishnu set," Corea says. "Those were exciting times, man. John started the concert with a minute of silence, and then they just blasted off."

Like RTF, Mahavishnu went through various incarnations (the two bands even shared a member, vocalist/keyboardist Gayle Moran, who later married Corea). When McLaughlin broke up the orchestra for good, he launched the groundbreaking world music group Shakti with tabla master Zakir Hussain, the first of several increasingly persuasive Indian jazz projects.

Over the years, McLaughlin has alternated between electric and acoustic guitar, touring with flamenco master Paco de Lucia, composing concertos for classical guitar and orchestra, and arranging a program of Bill Evans music for guitar quartet. In recent years he's delved back into high-octane fusion, delivering a combustible plugged-in set on 2006's Industrial Zen.

"I'm a Western musician and my discipline is jazz," said McLaughlin, 67. "I want to give testimony to my jazz-rock roots." Not that he's abandoned his love of classical Indian music. The Five Peace Band takes its name from last year's Floating Point, a collaboration with some of the world's finest Indian musicians.

Corea has similarly zigzagged between acoustic and electric contexts, writing chamber music and grandiose sci-fi epics for fusion combo, all the while maintaining his long-running collaborations with vocal wizard Bobby McFerrin and vibraphonist Gary Burton. Indeed, last month Corea and Burton's The New Crystal Silence won the Grammy Award for Best Jazz Instrumentalist Album.

For Corea, the point isn't whether he's playing a Yamaha grand piano or a Moog Voyager; it's the depth of communication he achieves with his band mates, which is why his reunion with McLaughlin holds such promise. "The instruments, whether acoustic or electric, are servants, they're tools to be used to get to the goal, the ideas that we're trying to express," Corea says. "We play everything from very quiet expressions to wild and dense passages. It's a constant mix and experimentation, especially with the electric keyboard. But the instruments should always play a subservient role. The point is communication and rapport, mutual interest and co-creativeness."


CHICK COREA AND JOHN MCLAUGHLIN WITH THE FIVE PEACE BAND perform Monday, March 23, at 8pm at Civic Auditorium, 307 Church St., Santa Cruz. Tickets are $36.75-$68.25 at www.santacruztickets.com or 831.420.5260.


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