Chick Corea and John McLaughlin first played together in 1969 on Miles Davis’ seminal jazz-rock albums In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew, before starting their own groundbreaking fusion outfits, Return to Forever (Chick) and the Mahavishnu Orchestra (John). They’ve gotten together a few times over the years since those days with Miles, and both of them have enjoyed spectacular solo careers that have taken them in a million different musical directions, but the Five Peace Band marks the first time they’ve collaborated in a group to this degree. And Chick and John aren’t all this group has to offer—the other members are stars, as well: saxophone great Kenny Garrett (himself an alumnus of later Miles bands), bassist Christian McBride, and drummer Vinnie Colaiuta. Now that’s a potent unit.
This live album, recorded on a European tour in the fall of 2008, shows a group of incredible soloists and marvelous ensemble players making their way through eight pieces over the course of two CDs that range from dynamic up-tempo fusion pieces to numbers that show incredible sensitivity and nuance. Much as I love Chick playing a conventional piano, I’ve always been a sucker for his electronic keyboards, and for my money that’s where he really shines on this set, from the wonderful opening tune—McLaughlin’s “Raju,” with its Rhodes textures, to the bent notes of his work on “New Blues, Old Bruise” (another McLaughlin composition). Then again, there is such a purity and clarity to his acoustic piano work (as on his “Hymn to Andromeda”) I don’t want to slight that, either.
McLaughlin is still one of the fastest and most precise guitarists on Planet Earth, but much of the music on these discs requires more subtlety than flash from his axe—he has always been capable of the most beautiful lyricism imaginable, too, and that is on full display on several tracks here: Check out his three-minute duets with Chick at the beginning of Jackie McLean’s driving “Dr. Jackie” and McLaughlin’s “Senor C.S.” Garrett excels on various saxes, at times recalling Wayne Shorter, but certainly carving out his own identity as well. I particularly admire his lengthy exposition on the 27-minute “Hymn to Andromeda,” which ranges from a controlled melodicism to Coltrane-ish fury. McBride and Colaiuta are splendid throughout, both supporting and driving the others as the pieces require. McBride plays acoustic and electric bass and also contributes some exceptional bowed bass work.
As someone who first heard these musicians through their work with Miles, I must admit that my favorites on this set are the two plucked from the trumpet great’s catalog: “In a Silent Way”/ “It’s About That Time” brings them back to the scene of one of their first mutual triumphs—and even includes guest pianist Herbie Hancock—but manages to sound completely fresh and new. And “Someday My Prince Will Come,” which Miles covered long before he played with either of these cats, lets Corea and McLaughlin converse intimately together—it’s a thing of beauty, as is nearly everything on this superb, exceptionally well-recorded album.
Must Play: “Raju,” “In a Silent Way/ “It’s About That Time”
Producers: Chick Corea and John McLaughlin. Recorded by Sven Hoffman and Bernie Kirsch. Mixed by Brian Vibberts. Mastered by Bernie Grundman.