Monika Herzig knows the Chick Corea book — in another sense, she wrote it ("Experiencing
Chick Corea") — so a tribute show at the Jazz Kitchen was bound to be a set of both breadth and depth.
Monika Herzig: Chick's music
And so it was Sunday night, the pianist heading a group with Peter Kienle, guitar; Scott Pazera, electric bass, and Cassius Goens III, drums. On several numbers, Oliver Nelson Jr. stepped in with his flute and piccolo.
The show had variety that commendably suggested the range of the prolific pianist-composer-bandleader over 50 years in the jazz spotlight. Herzig took a solo turn to play a piece from Corea's little-known "classical" suite. But she also put on the strap-held keytar with the ensemble in full cry to represent Corea's electric band and the Return to Forever legacy, a major feature in the fusion outgrowth of jazz.
The climax of the show, with two examples of the substantial "Spanish tinge" in Corea's output, was flamboyant and mesmerizing. There were evocations of Lenny White in Goens' drumming, Al Di Meola and Frank Gambale in Kienle's guitar, and Stanley Clarke in Pazera's bass.
Each man has had many years to embed a personal signature in his playing, and that was evident, too. Herzig's mastery of right-hand virtuosity was complete. The preponderance of Corea devotees in the audience rewarded the sincerity and commitment with cheers and ovations throughout the nearly two-hour show.
Nelson shares Herzig's bright outlook and habit of emotional involvement on and off the bandstand. His piccolo playing was exemplary as set in a context of Corea's loyalty to his bop roots in "Bud Powell," a piece lifting up his keyboard predecessor by name alone. This performance featured an excellent Kienle solo, one with the kind of expansiveness Corea's music always encourages. There was an energized episode of multidirectional exchanges with Goens, ensuring that "Bud Powell" would stay aloft and land safely. Nelson was whimsically apt on the C flute itself in "Humpty Dumpty."
In more complex music, the band had plenty to show off. The changing meters in "Litha" (from Corea's calling card as a leader, "Tones for Joan's Bones") found everyone adept. Accompaniment patterns, when they could be savored in isolation, were always suitable: Goens was especially illuminating in the way he added brilliance to Pazera's solo. The bassist had previously stood out with his liquid, well-knit runs while soloing in "Armando's Rhumba," the set's opening number.
For a sentimental journey that helped project the leader's decades-long marital bond with Kienle, a piano-guitar spotlight in "Crystal Silence" recalled Corea's affinity for working in duos, especially with Gary Burton. The vibraphonist's Anderson, Indiana, origins were a matter of gentle controversy in dialogue with audience members. There was no arguing with the effect of this part of the tribute, however.
The characteristic Corea manner of band-leading was to set any cultivation in a kind of hanging-gardens format. His music almost always displayed careful husbandry, and the impression of witnessing something lush, luxuriant, and spilling over was always part of the appeal. On Sunday night, the Herzig manner of tending those gardens came up with fresh greenery amid the heirloom vegetation that deserves a perpetual corner of the jazz estate.