Antidote from Chick Corea and his newly formed Spanish Heart Band revisit songs from his classic albums My Spanish Heart and Touchstone. The Spanish Heart Band is a multi-cultural octet playing both these classic and new compositions with guest appearances by vocalists Ruben Blades, Gayle Moran Corea, and Maria Bianca. Corea, who claims his genetics are Italian insists that his heart is Spanish. It’s the music he grew up and says, “This new band is a mix of all the wonderful and various aspects of my love and lifetime experience with these rhythms that have been such a big part of my musical heritage.”
The music covers Spanish, Latin, and flamenco traditions with his own compositions and those of Antonio Carlos Jobim, Paco de Lucia and Igor Stravinsky. The eight-piece unit includes: Flamenco guitarist Nino Josele and saxophonist/flutist Jorge Pardo, both from Spain and having worked with the late flamenco master Paco de Lucia. Bassist Carlitos Del Puerto hails from Cuba and played on the 2017 Corea-Gadd Chinese Butterfy album as did Venezuelan percussionist Luisito Quintero. Trumpeter Michael Rodriguez and trombonist Steve Davis form a brassy front line along with the driving drums of Marcus Gilmore, grandson of the living legend, Roy Haynes. For live performance, flamenco dancer Nino de los Reyes joins.
This music brings together not only the forms of Spanish and Latin music but elements of classical (Stravinsky) and the funk and fusion that have been the hallmarks of Corea’s sound. It’s a cornucopia of influences, starting with Corea’s early days in New York, playing with Mongo Santamaria in 1960 at Birdland. He says, “Four doors up from Birdland on Broadway was the Palladium, where you could hear people like Tito Puentes, Machito, Ray Barreto, Eddie Palmieri. I used to jump out of my gig (during breaks) and go stand in form the bandstand at the Palladium. So the jazz scene that I came up in was very much a part of what I call my “Spanish Heart.”
”My Spanish Heart,” a rework of the title of the classic album of the same name, has a vocal choir recorded by Corea’s lifetime and musical partner, Gayle Moran Corea, that serves as a prelude. The familiar song opens with soft, rather dark piano chords that lead into the vocal from Ruben Blades, backed just by Corea and the rhythm section before the horns join in ensemble fashion. In the middle Corea plays mostly a Fender Rhodes and keyboards, taking to the acoustic with the soft, choir-backed outro. Blade’s vocal, a combination of lyrics and scat, is especially stirring and Rodriguez takes a lyrical solo. This leads into “Armando’s Rhumba,” written by Corea as a tribute to his dad. Stirring turns come from Davis’ trombone, Pardo’s flute, and Rodriguez’s trumpet in that order before Josele’s lively flamenco guitar paves the way for Corea’s dazzling piano and his dialogue with the drums and percussion.
”Duende” from Touchstone gets an atmospheric treatment courtesy of Pardo’s flute and horn dialogue between Davis and Rodriguez. “Yellow Nimbus” (in two parts here)was originally written as a duet between Corea and de Lucia, but here we hear Nino de los Reyes’ pattering feet conversing with Quintero’s percussion before we get the interplay between Corea and Josele. Vocalist Maria Bianca, flutist Pardo, Josele shine on Jobim’s classic “Desafinado,” the tale of a love affair gone off the rails.
”Zyrab” is a De Lucia piece named for the Persian-African poet and musician from 9th-century Spain who was credited with introducing the lute to the Spanish court, destined to evolve into the flamenco guitar. Corea recorded the original version with De Lucia in 1990 and revisits its intriguing blend of Spanish and Middle Eastern influences here. Another melding of genres appears in “Pas de Deux,” from Stravinsky’s ballet The Fairy’s Kiss, the most overt classical nod. It leads to the closer, “Admiration,” where all players strut their stuff in joyous fashion through Corea’s stylistic rhythmic and melodic changes.
Oh, and the album opens with the title track, a vehicle for Blades to plea for unity in these divisive times. Corea, like most masters, believes that music can be a healing force. This music flows beautifully, carries a special spirit, has its totally enthralling soaring moments, all played with democracy and finesse. What a band! This can stand with Corea’s best work, quite an accomplishment.