Chick COREA & Hiromi UEHARA - Duet Chick & Hiromi 2007
Duet is a masterwork of remarkable pianists of two different generations and cultures who transcend all boundaries to converse with each other with an exuberance and passion. The first CD features an original by each pianist (Corea’s “Humpty Dumpty” treated to a new rowdy rendering of skips, scrambles and nimble tumbles, and Hiromi’s “Déja Vu” brought to a higher tier with the duo imagining new twists and turns) as well as four covers, including tunes by Bill Evans (“Very Early”), Thelonious Monk (“Bolivar Blues”), Antonio Carlos Jobim (“How Insensitive”) and Lennon-McCartney (“Fool on the Hill”). On CD No. 2, each pianist brings to the set two originals (Corea: “Windows” and “Do Mo: Children’s Song #12”; Hiromi Uehara: “Place to Be” and “Old Castle”). They also cover “Summertime” with a reharmonized beauty and adventurously meld Joaquin Vidre Rodrigo’s classic “Concierto de Aranjuez” with one of Corea’s best-known tunes, “Spain.” The performance is so exhilaratingly rhythmic that the crowd claps in glee while the two pianists captivate on the keys. The music features pockets of spiraling dance and torrid zigzagging as well as teems with gentle lyricism and sublime wonderment. It’s no wonder that Duet, originally released in Japan in 2007 on Universal, became the top-selling jazz album of the year there. It also marked for Corea his first acoustic-piano duo performance since he and Herbie Hancock recorded their classic In Concert 1978 album live at Tokyo’s Budokan.
Because Duet soared in popularity, Corea and Hiromi decided to meet again—this time not in the intimate confines of a club, but at the outdoor Budokan stadium. Writing on his website, Corea said, “It was wild to see 5,500 people in attendance for the piano duet with Hiromi, the brilliant, young Japanese pianist and composer. Our three days at the Tokyo Blue Note became the double CD…and the interest [in it] seemed to warrant a try at a larger audience.” Corea continued: “I wasn’t sure how an audience that large in a venue that sprawling would receive our duet, which was conceived as an intimacy, largely improvised and for a jazz-wise public. Well, what a surprise when the audience calmly and appreciatively took in the almost two-hour concert with great interest and standing-ovation approval. I was so happy to see that this could happen in this day and age, and then thought, ‘Well, the Japanese have such an artistic culture.’”
Combined with his abilities as a soloist, Chick Corea's uncanny accompanist's instinct for supporting and focusing the spotlight on another player's efforts has produced celebrated duets with everyone from Gary Burton and Herbie Hancock to John McLaughlin and Bela Fleck. With Hiromi Uehara he has done it again.
Duet captures the two pianists in an engagement at Tokyo's Blue Note club in September of 2007, and finds them repeatedly achieving ecstatic heights of ingenuity and inventiveness. At first blush the opening tracks might feel too quiet as an introduction to the Sturm und Drang of this dynamic pairing, but if the anticipated energy, the bounding, rampaging, red-eyed thunder-and-lightning this partnership promises to deliver is not immediately evident as the first of two discs opens with Bill Evans' "Very Early" and Antonio Carlos Jobim's "How Insensitive," don't touch that dial...
Once these two get their hands warm on "Déjà Vu," the first of Hiromi's contributed compositions, they ignite things with a respectfully deconstructed version of "Fool on the Hill" that hews neatly to the lilting Lennon/McCartney melody line and harmonies right up until the closing three bars, when Corea unexpectedly plucks a few portentous notes inside the piano. The cubist conflagration long-time Corea fans perennially yearn for then flares dramatically on a joyful, abstracted version of his enduring "Humpty Dumpty," ending with his throwing down fistfuls of Cecil Taylor-esque tennis-ball chords, and his protégé enthusiastically throwing them right back. When he next engages Hiromi in some gravity-defying rhythmning on Thelonious Monk's "Bolivar Blues," the first disc's final track, it is plain she's in a mood to play.
A meandering "Windows" opens the second disc, but then it's off again on a stunning steeplechase of a composition, Hiromi's "Old Castle, by the River, in the Middle of a Forest," featuring some vintage unison dressage. By the time the last notes are sounded they are both energized and ready for a quirkily non-traditional distillation of "Summertime," using the Gershwin standard to continue widening the degree of abstraction as they travel through a sublimely ordered track sequence (a good argument in favor of albums, and against selective MP3 downloads). Musically, the end of "Summertime" dovetails into Hiromi's evanescent "Place to Be," which manages to slow the heart rate a few more beats per second before the disc concludes with a free-playing romp on Corea's "Children's Song #12," re-titled "Do Mo," and finally, an off-kilter rendition of "Concierto de Aranjuez/Spain" to provide an insouciantly perfect coda.
Every once in a while, a CD comes across my desk that I dig, and I just can't put into words why. (I like to believe that it's more about some mystical quality of the music and less about vocabulary limitations.) Chick Corea and Hiromi's Duet is one such CD. Recorded by two masterful, rather flexible jazz pianists, it's somewhat of an old guard meets new guard. Chick Corea, of course, has been around since the late 60s and has had a hand in the development of several jazz genres and helped bring electric pianos and synthesizers into the jazz mainstream. I'd never heard of Japanese pianist Hiromi Uehara until hearing this duet album, but this and videos of her various solo compositions have definitely caught my attention.
Part of the issue with phrasing my opinion of the CD is: how can you write about something like two pianists in a live setting bouncing off of each other? Unlike Corea's 2007 duet with Bela Fleck, The Enchantment, this double-album was recorded live at the Tokyo Blue Note. In a studio jazz setting, even if all of the takes are recorded with all instruments at once, it's still possible to pick the best take for an album; in the live setting, there's no way to bring it back, and there's also a lot more energy from the crowd and from the musicians playing off each other.
With that in mind, and comparing it to the difference between The Enchantment and Corea and Fleck's live performance, Duet is relatively restrained. The pieces go on for long times--the shortest piece, "The Fool on the Hill," clocks in at just under 7 minutes, and the longest is barely shy of 15--but in there are very few places that feel self-indulgent. The end of "Humpty-Dumpty," for instance, has a section which is basically a flurry of notes from both pianists with little semblance of harmonic structure, and on "Summertime," the melody is only followed closely enough to remind the listener what the song is. There are a few songs which are attention-grabbing, such as "The Fool on the Hill" with a percussive groove (my first reaction was "pianos can make a sound like that?"), or the funky "Ba-Lue Bolivar Ba-Lues-Are (Bolivar Blues)."
Put simply, this is an excellent piano jazz CD. The two show run the gamut from majestic flowing chords as can only be played on piano to saloon blues plinking, and all points between. If you're a fan of either pianist, pick it up, and if you're like me and had never heard of Hiromi before, make sure to check out some of her solo works as well.
By Dan Upton.
01. Very Early 9:13
02. How Insensitive 7:37
03. Déja Vu 9:01
04. Fool on the Hill 6:47
05. Humpty Dumpty 7:50
06. Bolivar Blues 8:46
07. Windows 7:45
08. Old Castle 14:57
09. Summertime 8:50
10. Place To Be 8:12
11. Do Mo -Children's Song #12 13:02
12. Concierto de Aranjuez/Spain 12:12