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Reunited & Reconsidered: the Chick Corea Akoustic Band Deepens a Legacy with 'Live'

Chick Corea Akoustic Band
Toshi Sakurai
courtesy of Chick Corea Productions
The Chick Corea Akoustic Band in St. Petersburg, Fla., during the 2018 concert that yielded a new double album, 'Live.'

The first posthumous album by Chick Corea — Live, a 2018 concert recording with John Patitucci and Dave Weckl — provides a fresh opportunity to reconsider the precision and cohesion forged by the group he called the Akoustic Band.

From the late 1980s into the ‘90s, this ensemble enjoyed a popular success that largely stood in contrast to its critical reception. With Corea on piano, Patitucci on bass and Weckl on drums, the trio tackled both original tunes and jazz standards with the same intricate intensity that they’d brought to their work in a fusion context, as part of the Elektric Band.

For some listeners, accustomed to a more breathy and balanced approach to the piano trio, it was something short of a winning formula. No less venerable a jazz critic than Leonard Feather, reviewing the album Alive in 1991, sniffed that “less theatricality and more pianistic virtuosity” would have elevated the music. But our own Nate Chinen caught the Akoustic Band on that tour, finding its blazing approach to be the perfect segue from hard rock to balladry and bop. (Nate saw the trio again in reunited form, at the 2018 Detroit Jazz Festival, and marveled at how much its rapport had deepened.)

Chick Corea Akoustic Band
Toshi Sakurai
Courtesy of Chick Corea Productions
The Chick Corea Akoustic Band at SPC Music Hall in St. Petersburg, Fla., on Jan. 13, 2018.

So in this episode of Jazz United, Nate and Greg talk about their initial impressions of the Akoustic Band, how those feelings evolved over time, and what it means to experience the group anew all these years later. We’ll also hear part of a conversation between Nate and John Patitucci, who pulls the curtain back a bit, remembering Corea’s generosity as a mentor.

And we’ll get into what makes Live a triumph — not only as a poignant reminder of what we lost when Corea passed this year, but also as a valuable addition to his trio discography. Decades older now, Corea, Patitucci and Weckl reveal a new approach to timbre, space, and language, even as they rekindle a musical camaraderie whose core remained unchanged for 30 years.

Chick Corea Akoustic Band Live is available now from Concord Jazz. And take note: the next WBGO Yamaha Salon, on Oct. 14, will be an all-star tribute to Chick Corea.

This I Dig: Greg recommends the Golden Gate Jubilee Quartet; Nate recommends Nate Smith’s Kinfolk 2: See the Birds.

Jazz United is produced for WBGO Studios by Trevor Smith.

Greg Bryant has been a longtime curator of improvisational music. At the age of 3 in his hometown of Nashville, Tennessee, he was borrowing his father’s records and spinning them on his Fisher Price turntable. Taking in diverse sounds of artistry from Miles Davis, Les McCann, James Brown, Weather Report and Jimi Hendrix gave shape to Greg's musical foundation and started him on a path of nonstop exploration.
A veteran jazz critic and award-winning author, Nate Chinen is editorial director at WBGO and a regular contributor to NPR Music.