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Concert Review by Nick Morgan
GARY BURTON AND CHICK COREA The Barbican, London, June 30th 2007
Chick Corea Gary Burton
“Who wants to spend an hour listening to piano and vibes?” That, according to Gary Burton was the question posed when it was suggested that he and pianist Chick Corea should make a recording, following an accidental jam session in 1972 (“Well they asked all the performers to come up and play after the show and we were the only two who turned up”). Given that the Barbican is packed, and that Burton and Corea are in the middle of a twelve month tour celebrating 35 years of on-off collaborations that have resulted in six albums and numerous awards, you might judge that the answer to the perhaps rhetorical question was “almost everyone”. Certainly while both have maintained highly successful individual careers their collaborative work has been outstanding, and their live performances much anticipated.
Burton is the rather reserved, scholastic, and almost Waspish-looking vibes player who contrasts starkly with the laid back finger-clicking eye-brow raising Corea, of mixed Italian (Sicilian?) and Spanish descent, who sits easily at his piano stool, and casually cracks jokes with the audience (“switch your mobile ‘phones on, this is about audience empowerment”) when his partner has to return to the dressing room for some forgotten sheet music. They’re like music’s Odd Couple – except of course when they sit down to play – at this point they appear to be joined at more than just the hip.
I can still remember Burton from an old black and white BBC TV recording made at Ronnie Scott’s, more years ago than I care to remember. He’s the guy who uses two sticks in each hand (actually they’re called mallets, and despite the fact that he wraps them carelessly in an old Heineken beer towel I understand they are made to his own exacting specifications). Before he plays he towers above the Musser vibraphone, sticks (sorry, mallets) in hand, with a slightly puzzled or pensive expression on his face, as if he doesn’t quite know what’s coming next. Gary Burton
Maybe he’s rehearsing his moves in his head. But when he starts playing, with magical harmonic chords effortlessly flowing from one to the other (‘Love castle’), interspersed with syncopated melodies and, on songs like ‘Bud Powell’ classic jazz riffs – then he just becomes a blur. Rarely will you see someone engaged with an instrument with such intensity – I count one missed note (“thud”) all night – otherwise his playing is as close to perfection as you might get.
Chick Corea
It’s easy to forget that Corea is even there. That’s not because he’s overwhelmed by Burton’s playing or the theatrical nature of his performance. It’s because his accompaniments and fills on songs like ‘Love Castle’, ‘Natural sense’ and ‘Crystal water’ are so delicate, subtle and perfectly attuned to Burton’s playing that you could think that you’re hearing one musician, one instrument. “We discovered”, said Burton, “an immediate connection, like two people who speak the same obscure language …”. It’s evident to see. It’s not that Corea is playing within himself, it’s simply that for much of the evening his performance is an object tutorial in “less is more”. Of course Corea does break cover on tunes like ‘Alegria’, his own composition (they bring out the sheet music for this one) that begins with both artistes using the lovely and well-polished Yamaha piano as a percussive platform to beat out a flamenco rhythm, and particularly ‘Bud Powell’ where he and Burton swap complex be-bop lines with ease.
Chick Corea Gary Burton
As the unlikely pair return for their encore Corea fools around on the vibes (“You thought there was only one guy who could play these, huh?”) before being joined by his partner for an unlikely duet until he returns to his keyboard for a rousing finale of Armando’s ‘Rhumba’. If the audience could have had their way they would have kept Corea and Burton on stage for a few more hours, and hardly surprising really. Marks out of a hundred? Almost as many as you could get. Stars? A constellation. They’re still touring – if you get the chance drop everything and go and see them. - Nick Morgan (photographs by Kate)

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