Five Peace Band: Chick Corea & John McLaughlin

FivePeaceLast week I attended the annual NVCA conference, held this year in Boston. Boston obliged with some lovely springtime weather and, most importantly, Boston provided a once-in-my-lifetime musical event, in the form of the second-to-last show in the world tour of Chick Corea and John McLaughlin‘s Five Peace Band. My partner (and Soul Patch band-mate) Jason, who just joined the board of the NVCA (congrats!) noticed the tour, but we were both out of town when it came through Colorado. Luckily, he realized they were playing at the Berklee Performance Center on the final evening of the NVCA conference last week.

Thanks to the magic of StubHub (and our good fortune that we can both be relatively price-insensitive), we managed to score third-row center tickets to see an historic show. The last time Chick Corea and John McLaughlin played together was 40 years ago at the sessions for Miles Davis’ seminal jazz fusion albums Bitches Brew and In A Silent Way. IASW is easily one of my favorite albums of all time. And Chick Corea’s song Spain contains one of my all-time favorite chord progressions, one that still inspires and vexes me whenever I try to solo over it.

I’ve had the good fortune to see Chick Corea play once (in Berlin in 1992 with his Elektric Band) and I’ve seen John McLaughlin several times, once in a 1996 London date with fellow guitar virtuosos Paco de Lucía and Al Dimeola and once in California with tabla master Zakir Hussein. Needless to say, since I was born too late to see Chick and John play together back in the day, I was thrilled to discover they were touring and that I’d have an opportunity to see them.

The show did not disappoint. The rest of the band included Brian Blade on drums, Christian McBride on bass and Kenny Garrett on sax. I’ve seen Christian McBride play several times at SFJazz Fest dates with Joshua Redman and others, but only on upright bass. He played at least half this show on a fretless electric five string and I can say without hyperbole that he is quite likely the best bass player I’ve ever heard. And together with Brian Blade, they were an unstoppable force as a rhythm section. And Garret’s saxophone playing is truly stellar and he’s capable of being both incendiary and restrained.

Every single player in the band is a bona fide virtuoso and it was quite easily one of the best shows I’ve ever seen. A week later, I’m still blown away by what I heard. As a glowing review in the LA Times aptly put it, the band was led by and supported by “genius level musicians”.

A highlight of the show for me was Garrett’s solo in a new Corea composition entitled “Hymn to the Muse”. Finally, at the end of the evening during the encore, the band performed “In A Silent Way / It’s About That Time” in a way that was both faithful to the original performance of 40 years ago yet also incorporated evidence that modern jazz fusion has continued to evolve since Miles, Chick and John helped unleash it upon the world.

I feel incredibly fortunate that I was able to see this show, and it easily earned a spot in my top five shows of all time. Wow. As Zappa said, “music is the best”.