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Calling Chick Corea one of the most important keyboard players in the history of jazz is almost an understatement. His style — influenced by Latin music and classical composition as much as bebop and blues — is uniquely ornate and melodic, and he's constantly challenging himself by playing in new contexts. His current project, the Five Peace Band, is one of his most exciting in years.
The group features guitarist John McLaughlin, saxophonist Kenny Garrett, bassist Christian McBride and drummer Brian Blade, who's taken over for Vinnie Colaiuta. Corea and McLaughlin first played together in Miles Davis's band in 1969, working on classic albums In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew. Indeed, it was Davis who encouraged Corea to take up the electric piano, an instrument he continued to explore with Return to Forever in the early '70s.
The Five Peace Band isn't just a reunion of two former Davis sidemen and superstars of the early-'70s fusion scene (Corea with RTF and McLaughlin with the Mahavishnu Orchestra), but a multi-generational all-star band. Garrett — who also played with Davis, albeit in the 1980s — has a lengthy and respected discography as a leader; McBride has been one of the most in-demand players in jazz since making his debut at the dawn of the '90s; and Blade and former Frank Zappa sideman Colaiuta are highly respected veterans in their own right.
The band was Corea's idea, and he made all the overtures that brought it together. "I actually presented the whole idea as a package to John, because I thought that particular lineup would make great spiritual chemistry," he says, "and he liked it right away. He knew everyone's work, especially Vinnie, who he had recorded and performed with. He had never worked with Kenny and Christian, but he knew their playing and liked the idea right away."
Corea has also taken a strong hand in preparing a repertoire for the band's shows. He wrote two new pieces for the group, "Hymn to Andromeda" and "The Disguise," along with what he describes as "a cute new arrangement" of Jackie McLean's "Dr. Jackle." The group has also been performing versions of "Raju," "New Blues Old Bruise" and "Señor CS" — all tracks from McLaughlin's last two albums, Industrial Zen and Floating Point — and a reworking of Miles Davis's "In a Silent Way."
In some ways, the Five Peace Band, with its electric instruments and rock-informed drummers, is a throwback to fusion's heyday. It's also a sign that the genre itself — that solotastic, prog-rockin' hybrid of Miles Davis and Yes — is back, not only as an influence on younger players, but as a vibrant, continuing form. "Fusion music, or whatever you want to call it — that direction of music which started around Miles's time — has never really stopped," Corea declares. "It's been changing a lot, and musicians dip in and out of it, but it's always there. My perspective recently, having put Return to Forever back together and now working with John, is that it's very much alive, because I'm right in the middle of it."