Pianist Chick Corea and vibraphonist Gary Burton have been performing and recording together—mostly originals—for 40 years. The two certifiable jazz legends have now paid homage to some of their favorite composers from the 1940s to the 1960s on Hot House (Concord Music Group).
Art Tatum (1909-1956) is recognized as quite possibly the greatest pianist of them all. Listen to his solo recordings and it’s like he has 20 fingers. His “Can’t We Be Friends” gets a lightly swinging arrangement.
Bill Evans (1929-1980), from Plainfield, NJ, was a mainstay in the Miles Davis bands of the ‘50s and influenced a generation of piano men with his avant-garde impressionism, made manifest on what many consider the greatest jazz album of all time, Miles’ Kind Of Blue. His beautiful ballad “Time Remembered” gets a misty-eyed treatment, like a seduction scene backdrop.
Dave Brubeck, still touring at 91, has his “Strange Meadow Lark” (a song off his 1959 Take Five album, the biggest-selling jazz album of all time) interpreted with syncopated surprise.
Thelonious Monk (1917-1982) is probably the one jazz composer who gets covered the most often. Here, they use his little-known “Light Blue,” a tune Monk wrote at the end of his life that he hardly ever played live. It’s a tune so short that Corea wrote a second chorus of melody. Monk, by the way, is hands-down the most fascinating individual in music history and one would be smart to go read Thelonious Monk: The Life And Times Of An American Original by Robin D.G. Kelley (Simon and Schuster).
Burton says in the liner notes that they didn’t even realize all but two of their covers were by pianists. Another ivory tickler, Antonio Carlos Jobim (1927-1994) is a samba legend who single-handedly altered the course of popular music in his native Brazil. “Chega De Saudade” is a tune they both knew from playing with saxophonist Stan Getz. (In 1966, Corea replaced Burton in Getz’s quartet.)
Another great jazz legend, Paul McCartney (just kidding), still going strong at 70, gets his “Eleanor Rigby” interpreted for what seems like the millionth time (my favorite rendition is by Ray Charles). Before I get letters telling me the song has always been credited to Lennon/McCartney, let me explain that that was just their agreement to split royalties. The song is, indeed, pure Paul.
The title tune might be by Tadd Dameron (1917-1965), the brilliant composer/arranger/pianist, but jazz fans know it by bebop kings Charlie “Bird” Parker and Dizzy Gillespie (Dameron based the song on the harmony progression of Cole Porter’s “What Is This Thing Called Love”). If you listen closely, you’ll hear a mistake Burton alludes to in the liner notes. Directly after the initial melody statement, the two musicians were confused as to who was to solo first so they both start soloing simultaneously. Ultimately, it worked so well that it was kept in but, still, it’s a supremely human moment from two giants. The only other such moment I can recall is on the pop hit by Brook Benton and Dinah Washington (“A Rockin’ Good Way”) when Brook steps on Dinah’s line and she chastises him right on the record.
“My Ship,” popularized by Miles Davis on his 1957 Miles Ahead album, was written by German composer Kurt Weill (1900-1950). In the hands of these two, it’s haunting, evocative, heavenly and, again, perfect for seduction.
The album ends with a Corea original. “Mozart Goes Dancing” sounds like what you’d expect from such a title and only Corea could pull it off—with the help of The Harlem String Quartet. It’s a perfect way to end a perfect album.