Chick Corea Reignites a Flamenco Flame with 'Antidote,' Featuring His Spanish Heart Band

May 9, 2019

Pianist and composer Chick Corea isn’t typically slotted into the category of Latin jazz — but he’s had a substantial influence on its sound, and been influenced in turn.

One of his first appointments as a sideman, some 60 years ago, was with the indomitable Afro-Cuban percussionist Mongo Santamaría. Later there came notable Corea albums like My Spanish Heart, not to mention the enduring standard “Spain.”

Corea, who at 77 is an NEA Jazz Master and the recipient of nearly two dozen Grammy awards, has now formed an octet he calls The Spanish Heart Band. A new album by this group, Antidote, will be released on Concord Jazz on June 28.

At the core of the eight-piece band is a sterling rhythm team: bassist Carlitos Del Puerto, originally from Cuba, and drummer Marcus Gilmore, the grandson of longtime Corea associate Roy Haynes. Last year, Corea enlisted these same musicians for a riveting trio date featured on Jazz Night in America.

Also in the ranks are trumpeter Michael Rodriguez, trombonist Steve Davis, saxophonist and flutist Jorge Pardo, and percussionist Luisito Quintero. Two notable flamenco artists, guitarist Niño Josele and dancer Nino de los Reyes, are prominently featured on the album’s lead single, “The Yellow Nimbus – Part 2,” which has its exclusive premiere on WBGO.

“The Yellow Nimbus” originally appeared on Corea’s 1982 album Touchstone, as a custom showpiece for the incomparable flamenco guitarist Paco de Lucía. That version featured Corea on an array of analog synthesizers as well as acoustic piano; de Lucía provided the percussive handclaps himself, through overdubs.

Corea has revisited flamenco periodically since, notably during his 75th birthday celebration at the Blue Note in New York. Speaking with him for a preview feature in The New York Times, I asked about those mutual affinities. “Something got turned on when I met Paco de Lucía,” Corea responded. “Then I started meeting other flamencos and got turned on to their music and their history and seeing how that connected to my universe. When I get with those guys, it brings out something in me that I take with me even after I leave them.”

Chick Corea, right, with flamenco guitarist Nino Josele
Credit Fernando Sancho / fernandosancho.com

Antidote features a few other reimagined pieces from Corea’s back pages, including “Duende,” another track on Touchstone, and “Armando’s Rhumba,” from My Spanish Heart. The album’s title track is a new original that Corea composed for the charismatic Panamanian singer Rubén Blades, who turns it into a depth charge.

Blades also performs on a version of “My Spanish Heart” featuring new lyrics by Corea. “My heart beat / Dances always to the rhythm,” he sings. “That feeling always lives / So strong that it will never die.”

As for the album title: Corea frames Antidote in terms related to our tumultuous cultural moment. “Music and art are a kind of antidote to the dark side of life,” he said in an interview last year. Similar remarks are echoed in the Concord Jazz press release; one only has to wonder whether Corea ever considered a more thematically in-tune album title, Antídoto.

Chick Corea & The Spanish Heart Band will go on a concert tour in Europe this summer, culminating in a single North American date, on Aug. 3 at the 50th Annual Concord Jazz Festival.

Antidote will be released on Concord Jazz on June 28; preorder here.