Chick Corea, a true living legend of jazz, is lauded for his versatility as much as for his virtuosity. He defined the early jazz fusion sound playing with Miles Davis and subsequently with his own group, Return to Forever. His Elektric and Akoustic bands introduced audiences to his new visions of jazz, and he composed stunning classical works with Children’s Songs and The Continents: Concerto for Jazz Quintet and Chamber Orchestra. So when the salsa-inspired “Antidote” kicks off his latest album with the energy of a block party, it feels new yet unsurprising at the same time.
The Spanish Heart Band–Antidote is Corea’s latest collaboration with global spanning, Spanish influenced musicians. Corea was born in Massachusetts, but his musical heart resides in Spain and Latin America. Even casual jazz listeners know of Corea’s fascination with the nuances and intricate rhythms of Latin music. The Spanish Heart Band–Antidote amplifies the proceedings with a nine-member ensemble featuring a rhythm section, horn frontline, flute, percussion, and flamenco guitar.
“Antidote” features the legendary Ruben Blades, singing a melody with more disjunct twists and turns than we typically hear from the Panamanian vocalist. Despite feeling more on the modern jazz than salsa, Blades sounds utterly natural fitting in alongside the extended solo breaks. “Yellow Nimbus, Part 1” reaches deep into the heart of flamenco, featuring soulful meditations from guitarist Niño Josele and flutist Jorge Pardo. All the while, Josele and Pardo are supported by percussionist Luisito Quintero and flamenco dancer Nino de los Reyes with hypnotic handclaps and virtuosic footwork.
The record sounds remarkably intimate despite the sheer intensity and scope of the nonet. Tracks are arranged to feature the stellar work of each musician without sacrificing the soul of the composition. Consider “Duende”, a slow tune with plenty of room to breath and stretch its legs. It prizes its silence as much as it does its tasteful contributions from Pardo and trumpet player Michael Rodriguez.
The album’s reimagining of Corea’s classic “My Spanish Heart” begins with a stunning wordless vocal intro recorded by Corea’s partner in life and music, Gayle Moran Corea. It is at turns haunting and heavenly, and altogether another example of what jazz can become in the hands of innovation. Ruben Blades adds text to the track, a practice that could end in intentionally humorous disaster, but the result here is sincere and–forgive me–heartwarming.
Practically everyone gets a chance to solo on “Armando’s Rumba”, another Corea classic revived to showcase his new band. It’s another excellent example of substance over style; each musician plays a few choruses, makes a few fine improvisatory statements, then defers to the next musician. No one plays for bragging rights–everyone tastefully contributes to a track that sounds greater than the sum of its parts. Vocalist Maria Bianca stands out on Jobim’s bossa nova classic, “Desafinado”. The color of her voice and her pitch-perfect articulation of the Brazilian-flavored Portuguese text add an entirely new dimension to the album, a new sense of life and vitality to an already stellar recording.
While he could resort to rehashing his past records and phoning in subsequent concerts and appearances, it’s thrilling to see Corea pushing forward into new musical ventures. Undertaking new projects and refreshing collaborations is no small task for a jazz legend in his 50th decade of performing. Corea’s seemingly endless search for the next venture should be inspiring to musicians regardless of genre. Whatever happens to the collective on this album, The Spanish Heart Band–Antidote is a phenomenal record, destined to be one of the best jazz albums released the year.