Keyboard master Chick Corea and acclaimed drummer Steve Gadd met five decades ago and have played together intermittently during that time. Now they’ve come together again, formed a sextet and are delivering vital improvisational music with Spanish tinges, funky rhythms, and inspired soloing. This debut of The Chick Corea+ Steve Gadd Band is called “Chinese Butterfly.” The title and track were inspired by a verse written by Corea’s friend, poet MalinGelfan. “Your heart will tremble,” the brief poem concludes, “like a Chinese Butterfly.”Obviously, the term also connotes flight and artist Marc Bessant’s cover art shows the form of a butterfly constructed by instruments of the band – pianos for wings, drums and head and thorax, etc.
Corea and Gadd are joined by Benin-born guitarist and vocalist Lionel Loueke, who logged time in Herbie Hancock’s Grammy-winning band ten years ago, saxophonist and flutist Steve Wilson, Cuban bassist Carlitos Del Puerto, and Venezuelan percussionist Lusito Quintero. All contribute mightily to the music which is at times propulsively funky while elegantly lyrical at others. Corea is credited on the all eight tunes with the exceptions being John McLaughlin’s tribute “Chick’s Chums” and “Wake-up Call” which was co-written with Loueke. You can’t help but marvel at both the rhythmic power and finesse of Gadd across this challenging breadth of material. Corea says, “It’s a co-creation. I write the compositions, and Steve puts together the form of the rhythm, which is the backbone of the band. In my music, rhythm is everything – if the music doesn’t have the right emotion and rhythm, it can’t live.”
The first instrument you hear on the opening track “Chick’s Chums” is Gadd’s drums, signifying how important his role will be. Funk gives way to lyricism in “Serenity,” featuring Loueke’s vocals and Wilson’s flute. The ensemble trims down to a trio with Corea’s electric keyboards and synthesizers, Gadd’s drums, and Del Puerto’s electric bass on the grooving “Like I was Saying.” Corea takes to the acoustic piano for “A Spanish Song,” where Wilson plays soprano sax and Quintero provides the deeply Latin feel on percussion. The lengthy title track begins with interplay between Corea’s electric piano and the rhythm section before Loueke and then Wilson on soprano join in stirring dialogues with Corea.
Disc two, with only three tracks, gives the band even more opportunities to stretch out. The opener, the familiar“Return to Forever,” pays homage to Corea’s most well-known band, and features airy, soulful vocals from Earth, Wind & Fire original Philip Bailey. The epic eighteen-minute “Wake-up Call” suggests a jungle environment replete with birds and wild chants via Wilson’s flute, Loueke’s vocals and the African rhythms which are key to the mix. The closer, “Gadd-zooks,” as the name implies, is a showcase for Gadd’s impressive array of rhythmic excursions with Corea’ssynthezisers providing the counterpoint.
The leaders bring their A-game and the band supports beautifully throughout. Corea proves once again that he is not only an amazing keyboardist whether it be funk-driven energy or highly engaging melodic runs, but his composing is on another level too. While that’s long been the case, this outing offers even more evidence of his prowess.