Antidote (Concord Jazz)
Chick Corea & The Spanish Heart Band
Released June 28, 2019
Grammy Award for Best Latin Jazz Album 2020
Throughout his storied career, iconic pianist/keyboardist Chick Corea has explored a wealth of music from across borders both geographical and stylistic. Time and again over the decades he’s returned to what he calls his “Spanish Heart” – the Spanish, Latin and flamenco traditions that have indelibly shaped his unmistakable sound. Now, with his new album Antidote, recorded with his brand-new Spanish Heart Band, Corea once again delves deeply into the Latin side of his musical heritage with a stunning collection of musicians from Spain, Cuba, Venezuela and the U.S.
Corea’s debut release with the Spanish Heart Band revisits classic pieces from two of the bandleader’s most beloved albums, My Spanish Heart and Touchstone, along with new compositions and favorites by revered composers like Antônio Carlos Jobim, Paco de Lucía and Igor Stravinsky.
Antidote is just that – a musical cure for a turbulent time, bringing together artists from diverse cultures to make harmonious music together. In addition to this stellar new ensemble, the recording features guest appearances by the acclaimed Panamanian vocalist Rubén Blades and gifted singers Gayle Moran Corea and Maria Bianca.
“My genetics are Italian,” Corea says, “but my heart is Spanish. I grew up with that music. 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.”
To embark on this vibrant exploration, the 77-year-old keyboard virtuoso has assembled a brilliant eight-piece band: Flamenco guitarist Niño Josele and saxophonist/flutist Jorge Pardo both hail from Spain and have both worked with the late flamenco master Paco de Lucía. Bassist Carlitos Del Puerto was born in Havana, Cuba and played on Chinese Butterfly, Corea’s 2017 collaboration with legendary drummer Steve Gadd – as did Venezuelan percussionist Luisito Quintero.
Trumpeter Michael Rodriguez and trombonist Steve Davis form an unstoppable horn front line, while Marcus Gilmore follows in the footsteps of his grandfather, the great Roy Haynes, as a master drummer (and close collaborator with Corea). The band is augmented by the fiery footwork of rising star flamenco dancer Nino de los Reyes.
“Continuing along the lines of his landmark recordings, Touchstone and My Spanish Heart,” says John Burk, Concord Records President, “Chick applies his creative genius to further explorations of Spanish and Afro-Cuban styles with an exceptional cast of musicians, to produce some of the most thrilling, dynamic, and deeply musical work of his entire career.”
With a band of incredibly versatile musicians and his usual wide horizons, Corea composed a set of music that draws from a wealth of sources – jazz and Latin music, naturally, but also classical, funk and fusion elements. “This is the mixer,” he says, pointing to his head. “I drink in the culture around me, which is rich in ideas. I’m excited about this record because there are a lot of influences that come through in it.”
There has been a Latin tinge to Corea’s music almost as long as he’s been performing. His first gig upon arriving in New York City in 1960 was with the influential Cuban-born percussionist Mongo Santamaría at Birdland. As he recalls, “Four doors up from Birdland on Broadway was the Palladium, where you could hear people like Tito Puente, Machito, Ray Barretto, Eddie Palmieri. I used to jump out of my gig [during breaks] and go stand in front of 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.’”
Corea has made no secret for his love of Spanish, Latin and flamenco music. In 1972 he debuted perhaps his most well-known composition, “Spain,” inspired by Joaquin Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez. The piece has been recorded countless times since, including versions by de Lucía and Tito Puente. In 1976 he released My Spanish Heart, an innovative session combining jazz fusion with traditional Latin music; it went on to become one of Corea’s most successful albums and is universally considered a classic. 16 years later, he visited similar terrain on the even more expansive Touchstone, which spotlights his collaboration with de Lucía.
Corea revisits songs from both classic albums on Antidote. The title song from My Spanish Heart opens with a lush, moving vocal choir recorded by Corea’s longtime musical and life partner, Gayle Moran Corea. Stark piano chords lead into the familiar song, rendered here with an emotionally stirring vocal by Rubén Blades. The band then breaks into the electrifying dance of “Armando’s Rhumba,” a song penned by Corea in tribute to his father from the same album.
From Touchstone, Corea first offers an atmospheric rendition of “Duende,” with an evocative palette featuring Pardo’s soaring flute and thrilling interplay between the eloquent horns of Davis and Rodriguez. Quintero’s percussion dialogues with the rapid-fire patter of Nino de los Reyes’ dancing feet to open “Yellow Nimbus,” originally written as a duet for Corea and de Lucía. Here the pianist’s flurries are joined by the flamenco master’s virtuosic protégé, Niño Josele.
De Lucía composed “Zyryab,” 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 the guitarist in 1990 and revisits its blend of Spanish and Middle Eastern influences in intriguing fashion here.
Another blend of disparate genres shines through on “Pas de Deux,” a piece from Stravinsky’s ballet “The Fairy’s Kiss.” Corea’s solo piano arrangement weaves into his original piece “Admiration,” celebrating the feeling the bandleader has towards not only his inspirations but the remarkable ensemble that navigate his tricky stylistic mergers. The final composition Corea chooses to explore is Jobim’s classic “Desafinado,” which features the soulful vocals of Maria Bianca relating the tale of a love affair gone slightly out of tune.
The album opens with the title track, “Antidote,” a heartfelt entreaty written by Corea for Blades. The pianist’s lyric is a mission statement, defying the divisive issues we face with the fact that, “Music, musicians and all artists are the antidote to man’s inhumanity to man.” The music on Antidote captures that feeling with healing camaraderie, with the added spirit that Corea embraces in his lyric for “My Spanish Heart.”
The dance of life
Freedom of the imagination
The joy of creating
From my Spanish Heart
1. Antidote (Rubén Blades / Chick Corea) feat: Rubén Blades 09:14
2. Duende (Chick Corea) 10:13
3. The Yellow Nimbus, Pt. 1 (Chick Corea) 05:47
4. The Yellow Nimbus, Pt. 2 (Chick Corea) 05:57
5. Prelude to My Spanish Heart (Chick Corea) feat: Gayle Moran Corea 01:11
6. My Spanish Heart (Chick Corea) feat: Rubén Blades / Gayle Moran Corea 06:57
7. Armando’s Rhumba (Chick Corea) 08:02
8. Desafinado (Antônio Carlos Jobim / Newton Ferreira De Mendonca) feat: Maria Bianca 05:04
9. Zyryab (Ramón De Algeciras / Joan Albert Amargós / Paco de Lucía) 11:56
10. Pas de Deux (Igor Stravinsky) 01:40
11. Admiration (Chick Corea) 08:28
Chick Corea: piano and keyboards
Carlitos Del Puerto: bass
Marcus Gilmore: drums
Michael Rodriguez: trumpet
Steve Davis: trombone
Jorge Pardo: flute & sax
Luisito Quintero: percussion
Niño Josele: guitar
Nino de los Reyes: dancer
Rubén Blades: vocals (1, 6)
Gayle Moran Corea: vocal choir (5, 6)
Maria Bianca: vocals (8)
Recorded February 2019, at Mad Hatter Studios, LA
Produced by Chick Corea
Executive Producer: John Burk
Recorded and mixed by Bernie Kirsch
Mastered by Bernie Grundman
Cover photo: Mikolaj Rutkowski
For young, aspiring pianists, Chick Corea and his music might easily be considered “essential study”. His breathtaking oeuvre offers so many pillars – technique, expression and so on – upon which the student of the nineteenth century’s greatest instrument might build his or her own musical edifice. Mr Corea has also created – and continues to create – so much great work in a myriad of styles during his long and distinguished music career that his creations could full a whole library of music (and then some) all on its own. Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of this is that his music continues to remain fresh, informed by something childlike.
With the repertoire of Antidote Chick Corea returns to one of his favourite settings – music ensuing from what he has always suggested was his “Spanish heart” – Mr Corea offers us his latest and, perhaps, most rewarding work. Alternately daring and coy, but always with an awareness of the limitless possibilities of the instrument this is the work of transcendental quality by a pure genius. The music is redolent of a penetrating vision that has surveyed seemingly the whole history not only of the piano, but of music itself. The result is brooding creations; music that rises from the growling bass to the uppermost reaches of the keyboard in a startling flash of inspiration. Then, making one of his balletic leaps of faith, Mr Corea has orchestrated this music for The Spanish Heart Band to play their hearts out song after song after song.
There is a suggestion right from the outset that this music is the Antidote; the magic remedy for the wrong turns that we – humanity – have made throughout our existence. This suggestion comes by way of the lyrics in “Antidote” sung by the iconic Panamanian musician, Rubén Blades as well as later in the lyrics of “My Spanish Heart” – both gorgeous songs that can only be described in the words of Heine: as “the poetry of feeling”. Indeed this kind of depth of feeling pervades the rest of the extraordinary repertoire on this recording. Throughout Mr Corea continues to express his singular musical voice while using the full seven octaves of the piano and its heavily felted hammers to produce music of enormous colour and refined tone.
A particular feature of this music, indeed of all Mr Corea’s music which distinguishes it from the music of most composers of his (or any) generation is that it rarely carries literary, pictorial or biographical significance – his works are to be understood in purely musical terms. Not that this might stop some from finding non-musical meanings in his music; (“Duende” for instance, or even in “My Spanish Heart”). In fact the concentrated and sometimes volatile nature of his imagination – especially in those works – might invite such speculation. However, it is the unique nature of the works that melds melody, harmonic and rhythmic content into a powerful mix that is of greatest significance there; that and the fact that they sound as if they are spontaneous improvisations forced from the unconscious by overwhelming emotion.
As ever too, Mr Corea shows that he has a gift for bringing together musicians to interpret his work with ever-thoughtful inspiration. In this regard, bassist Carlitos Del Puerto joins a long line of great bassists to have played with the pianist – from Miroslav Vitous and John Patitucci to Christian McBride. Marcus Gilmore brings his prodigious melodic and rhythmic genius to the drum chair and the rhythmic department is augmented with the gifts of Luisito Quintero. A powerful horn section comprises trombonist Steve Davis, trumpeter Michael Rodriguez and they are joined by the great saxophonist and flutist Spaniard Jorge Pardo, who is one of three musicians who conjure the ghost of Mr Corea’s great dedicatee – the great Flamenco icon, Paco de Lucía – the other being guitarist Niño Josele – both of whom played with De Lucía at different times in his career. Songs such as “Duende” and “Zyryab” would probably not be the same were it not for Mr Pardo and Mr Josele. Mr Corea has also included “Armando’s Rhumba” a beautiful song dedicated to his inspirational father on this recording. Among the other noteworthy compositions not written by him are “Zyryab” by Paco de Lucía, “Desafinado” by Tom Jobim and Newton Ferreira de Mendonça, and “Pas de Deux” by Igor Stravinsky. Even without a work by Scriabin (unusual for recent Chick Corea history), Antidote is his most absorbing recordings – well worthy of the Grammy nomination it has received. You will also be mesmerised by the other-worldly vocalastics of Gayle Moran Corea on both parts of “My Spanish Heart”. Maria Bianca delivers a soulful version of “Desafinado” that frees it from the confines of its Bossa Nova tempo in a beautiful new rhythmic interpretation. And the recording ends with a magical arrangement of “Admiration” featuring the hypnotic bailaor de flamenco – Nino de los Reyes as Mr Corea brings down the curtain on his tribute to Paco de Lucía and, of course, the great reveal of Mr Corea’s palpitating Spanish Heart.
Raul da Gama (Latin Jazz Network)