The initial spark for Chick Corea and Gary Burton’s long-running duo was a 1972 after-festival jam. Forty years on and the piano and vibes partnership is still finding new paths to explore. At this gig the pair’s extensive back catalogue of originals was almost brushed aside as a warm-up for their new album Hot House, a celebratory makeover of lesser-known songs from their favourite jazz composers. The two veterans constructed their own crystalline structures, full of detail, clever twists and passionate intrigue, from the DNA of Art Tatum, Dave Brubeck and Thelonious Monk.
Corea and Burton set out their stall with their opening brace of “Love Castle”, from their New Crystal Silence album, and 1997’s “Native Sense”. Burton’s vibes shimmered, Corea’s ostinato rumbled, solos strode from a latticework of rhythm and hammer-and-tongs duets ended with a stark chord or a neat downward line.
With palette firmly fixed, the duo added trace elements of the composers whose music they were celebrating. “Can’t We Be Friends?” introduced Art Tatum’s dazzling runs and harmonic trickery, “Strange Meadow Lark” Dave Brubeck’s compositional grasp of the American songbook, and in the second set “Light Blue” bounced with Monk’s puckish angularity. There was a bossa, a dark-toned “Eleanor Rigby” and a dazzling re-interpretation of an already tricky tune – the be-bop classic “Hot House”, written by Tadd Dameron in 1945.
The second set had opened with a short Scriabin prelude – “dense and beautiful and too difficult for me to play”, said Corea, waving two sheets of manuscript in the air – followed by Bartók’s percussive and equally brief Bagatelle No 2. As before, Burton and Corea sampled melodic fragments and darted off at tangents, even while following the structure of the original. And as the evening unfolded through tweaked notes and delayed beats, intense solos and overlapping duets, their limited palette gained an orchestral scope. The finale, a frisky “Mozart Goes Dancing”, put a mischievous melody through a mill now spiced with baroque counterpoint.
Saxophonist Tim Garland joined for a double encore. “We’re just going to jam something,” said Corea. “Spanish Heart” was skin-tight, “Blue Monk” down and dirty and the playing crystal-clear and unfettered. A good gig had become great.