The Chick Corea + Steve Gadd Band – Chinese Butterfly (2018)

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Feature photo: C Taylor Crothers

If the music on the double-CD Chinese Butterfly sounds as if it was made in the fusion salad days of the 70s, it might be because the guys whose names are on it probably should have gotten together to do this way back then. The Chick Corea + Steve Gadd Band at long last puts together an all-world keyboardist with an all-world drummer to document a collaboration that had its beginnings in ’65 when they were briefly together in Chuck Mangione’s band and again in the early 70’s, when Gadd replaced Airto Moreira to kick off the classic, MK II version of Corea’s trailblazing fusion band, Return To Forever. But Gadd left the band before that phase of RTF recorded and released their first studio album. Nonetheless, the two later recorded some fusion and straight jazz together; much of these get-togethers came via Gadd’s guest spots on Corea’s solo albums of around the RTF era such as The Leprechaun, My Spanish Heart and Friends.

When the two decided on a fully committed collaboration and formed the Chick Corea + Steve Gadd Band last year, they added guitarist/ vocalist Lionel Loueke, saxophonist and flutist Steve Wilson, bassist Carlitos Del Puerto, and percussionist Luisito Quintero. Together they recorded and released Chinese Butterfly on Concord Jazz.

Save for Loueke’s guitar at times, which is because it’s Loueke being Loueke, little in this music would be out of place in the 70s. The style that Corea and Gadd came up with mines many ideas originally found on some of the songs found on those Corea records Gadd sat in on as well as Return To Forever, but don’t explicitly mimic what they did back then because they wisely adjust the arrangements to the talent at hand.

Chick Corea’s weapons of choice here are much the same ones he wielded when he was playing with Lenny White, Al Di Meola and Stanley Clarke: a Fender Rhodes, an acoustic piano and a Moog or two. Also congruent with the golden age of rock-jazz, the melodies — mostly written by Corea — are often riffs or motifs stitched together and the guys jam on them so long they must forgot they’re in a studio and are playing instead at some open-air concert. It rises above this well-worn recipe for a competent fusion record by sheer musicianship alone.

That’s how they tackle “Chick’s Chums,” a song written by old Chick Corea chum John McLaughlin and first appearing on Tony Grey’s Elevation about four years earlier. As well as Grey and McLaughlin performed it, this version is better. “Like I Was Sayin'” reminds us of Corea’s ability to swing on a Rhodes, and Gadd’s drums break out of a supporting role into a co-lead position and finally, taking full command.

“Serenity” breaks out of that template, Chick Corea playing piano in that exquisite Bill Evans fashion and Loueke’s wordless vocals along with a fantastic rhythmic communion between Gadd and Quintero and the breezy flute of Wilson make this a song not too far removed from the spirit of Retrun To Forever, Mk I. Speaking of the first incarnation, that group’s self-titled song from the self-titled first album is reinvigorated by Gadd’s muscular Latin pulse and Philip Bailey’s howling vocal which, perhaps inadvertently, draws in a connection between the soulful and jazzy music both Return To Forever and Bailey’s band Earth, Wind & Fire were making around the same time. Wilson’s soprano sax feature on that second section of the song is equally good to the late, great Joe Farrell’s on the original. “A Spanish Song” is a further exploration by Corea he initiated in the early 70s to meld rock, jazz and Latin music, tightly binding rhythm to melody in the process.

The final two tracks could make up a whole LP alone back in the vinyl days, but playing for that long doesn’t suffer from the players in this band running out of ideas. “Wake-Up Call” is a Corea/Loueke collaboration, and it clearly has African shapes aided by vocal-on-guitar scatting from the Benin-born Loueke. Like “Return From Forever,” it starts out airy and gets groovin’ in the second segment; Gadd asserts himself mightily here. Eventually though, everyone gets a chance to assert themselves in this eighteen minute performance. Chick Corea’s playful nod to his drummer friend, “Gadd-Zooks”, is a series of mini-compositions all set up nicely to showcase Gadd’s endless range as a rhythmist and timbralist, often engaging head-on with Corea’s imaginative synthesizers.

Having both recently celebrated their 70th birthdays, this meeting of old friends inspired them to turn back the clock to a time when they were making music history. Chinese Butterfly breaks no new ground but in this case, that can be completely forgiven. The Chick Corea + Steve Gadd Band cover old ground with such vigor, inspiration and mastery that makes this album just as essential in 2018 as it would have been in 1978.


S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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