Chick Corea, Bobby McFerrin, and Jack DeJohnette combined free improvisation with old-fashioned showmanship at the Granada.
Paul Wellman

This jazz supergroup functions quite differently from what one would expect given the individuals involved. As a pianist, bandleader, and composer, Chick Corea’s reputation is built on consummate musicianship, technical prowess, and brainy ideas. Jack DeJohnette may be the greatest living jazz drummer, and the ensembles he leads are generally hard-driving, post-bop express trains. The only hint at what was in store on Tuesday night might have come from recent concerts by Bobby McFerrin, the expansive, category-of-one vocalist who likes to conduct duets with the audience and is known for his playfulness onstage. Coming together as a trio, these master musicians created a thrillingly offbeat evening of entertainment that simultaneously took jazz out toward the limits of free improvisation and back to its roots in vaudeville.

The concert consisted of one long improvised piece performed without intermission, and a single, more familiar encore of Thelonious Monk’s classic “In Walked Bud.” From the outset, it was clear that this show would not be about the standard or the expected. McFerrin was generally the instigator, although Corea and DeJohnette showed a remarkable willingness to go along with his impulses. At one point, all three musicians were at work together making sounds underneath the lid of Corea’s piano. At other times, one would lay out and pantomime a march or a drum roll while the other two made the music. Paradoxically, it was only when McFerrin used a high-pitched voice to order Corea off the piano bench-“Move over, daddy!”-that the music settled into a deep blues groove.

Discoveries abounded as the shenanigans onstage became more and more rambunctious. DeJohnette has a great, gruff singing voice and Corea can turn a melodica into a close approximation of a blues harmonica. The Granada was a splendid venue for the show, as everything from the click of a drumstick against the rim of a snare to the “ah-choo” of a sneeze in the back of the hall sounded crystal clear. Compared to the seriousness and musical depth of some piano trios, this was a lighthearted evening, but there’s no question that audiences everywhere will be wowed by the McFerrin, Corea, DeJohnette traveling circus.


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