Wednesday, July 20, 2011

July 20: Chick Corea, "Sometime Ago/La Fiesta"

Artist: Chick Corea
Song: "Sometime Ago/La Fiesta"
Album: Return To Forever
Year: 1972

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There are a handful of musicians throughout history that seem to make it their personal mission to continually defy all trends and constantly push their given genre forward.  While in many cases, one could understand a performer being content in being a part of what is considered to be one of the greatest recordings in history, there are an elite few players for whom this is simply not enough.  Whether it was the fact that he was one of such people, or the massive innovations he made throughout his career, one can easily argue that if there is one jazz musician that stands in a category all his own, it is Chick Corea.  Having backed the likes of Miles Davis and Mongo Santamaria, Corea pushed further into his own talents, refusing to plateau musically, and it was in this act where on many levels, he defined the term "jazz fusion."  It was within the confines of his own group, dubbed Return To Forever, where Chick Corea truly pushed the limits of the jazz genre, and the level of experimentation and exploration throughout the groups' first two records remains largely unrivaled.  It was their second, self-titled album where the true brilliance of the band became the most evident, and one can trace the impact of the record not only along later jazz recordings, but also within the sounds of funk and electronic music.  Though each of the four tracks on the 1972 release are superb, it is the second-side-long song, "Sometime Ago/La Fiesta" that perfectly defines the genius of Chick Corea, as well as the true meaning of the term "jazz fusion."

It almost goes without saying that the lineup on Return To Forever is one of the finest in jazz history, and yet even if one is not aware of the players, the sound that they create makes this completely obvious to all. Yet "Sometime Ago/La Fiesta" is a bit of an oddity within jazz in the fact that there are three completely distinct movements in the work, but it is largely the playing of bass legend Stanley Clarke that keeps them a cohesive work.  From his absolutely stunning solo during the first movement, to the high energy, yet moody progressions he displays in the remainder of the song, this is unquestionably one of his finest performances, and the interplay between him and Corea is truly stunning.  It is also Clarke's chemistry with drummer Airto Moreira that pushes "Sometime Ago/La Fiesta" to such great heights, and the uniquely urgent swing that Moreira brings to the track is where the fusion truly resides.  There are even points where Moreira seems to be leading the group, and it is also his playing that highlights the Latin influences on the music.  Adding additional percussion, as well as the vocals in the middle section of the song is Flora Purim, and it is her singing that brings a brightness to the song that would not have otherwise existed.  Yet it is also the way in which the band is able to retain a darker, moody feeling underneath her signing that makes "Sometime Ago/La Fiesta" so fantastic.

Along with these exceptional performances, Joe Farrell lends his talents on both flute and saxophone to the track, and it is within his playing that the avant and free spirit fo "Sometime Ago/La Fiesta" reside.  Whether it is the flighty, swift flute sections in the central part of the song, or the absolutely brilliant saxophone progressions in the latter portion, there are few players that have achieved similar heights, and in this performance alone, Farrell cements his place as a legend.  Yet working behind and around all of these fantastic musicians is the electric piano of Chick Corea, and one would be hard pressed to find a more distinctive sound and tone than he possesses.  It is his playing that throughout all of "Sometime Ago/La Fiesta" keeps the strangely dark, exceptionally capricious mood of the composition, and it is largely highlighted by his solo transition between the second and third sections of the song.  There is a robust presence in his playing, and it is in this where one can understand how a player can have one foot firmly in the world of jazz, and the other touching so many other genres.  The way that he coaxes in his own Latin influence with the jazz base is a sound that must be experienced firsthand to be properly appreciated, and it is in this flawless mixture where one can find the definition of "jazz fusion" at its finest.  It is the natural flow of the sounds and combinations in which the beauty of Corea's vision resides, and there are few recordings that can compare to the sounds and tones found within "Sometime Ago/La Fiesta."

However, one of the most stunning, revealing, and overlooked aspects of "Sometime Ago/La Fiesta" is the spirit and sound found within the final section of the composition.  It is in this portion of the song were the musicians truly push the idea of jazz to its limits, and in the tone, speed, and style, one cannot help but make comparisons to the music of Frank Zappa.  The saxophone sounds and speed form Farrell is where one can most easily make this connection, as his playing would have fit in perfectly with Zappa's compositions.  Yet it is also within this absolutely mind-blowing moment where the most perfectly crafted piece of jazz fusion ever recorded occurs, when the band manages to flawlessly incorporate the songs' central theme alongside the modern, free-form exploration.  In many ways, one can see this as a perfectly crafted combination of the "standard" jazz style that Corea honed in his time behind Miles Davis with the new forays that jazz was making into almost every other genre.  Though it is used many other places, it is this final section where one can easily understand what "jazz fusion" means, and on many levels, this example was never bested.  The entire work of "Sometime Ago/La Fiesta" is a testament not only to the exceptional level of talent within the band, but more importantly, to the true vision of Chick Corea, as it was for the most part this work that pushed the jazz genre into the modern age.  From the stunning progressions to the incredible innovations and musical trailblazing, there is simply no other recording in history that can match the sheer magnificence of Chick Corea's 1972 song, "Sometime Ago/La Fiesta."

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