This expansive, 19-song recording is a genuine event for many reasons. For one, it captures Chick Corea live in a small club during a two-week period (at the Blue Note in May of 2010) – a circumstances that rarely happens with Corea anymore. For another, it plumbs the vast and influential legacy of the late modal pianist Bill Evans. Among the tracks is a newly unearthed and previously unrecorded Evans original, beautifully fleshed out by the trio – which includes two longtime Evans sidemen: bassist Eddie Gomez and Paul Motian on drums. Motian’s subsequent passing in November 2011 makes his advanced and typically distinctive interpretations of Evans’s catalogue that much more precious.
But the best reason to celebrate this release is that it doesn’t freeze-dry the instantly familiar Evans approach to the piano trio. The press materials accurately warn that it is “less about reminiscence” and more of “a journey into the imaginations of three musicians.”
Corea immediately sets that imagination to work on “Peri’s Scope,” one of Evans’s later standards, capturing the pianist-composer’s subtly cubist ruminations, but flecking the august, mahogany-toned ambiance Evans deployed with more impulsive gusts.
There are originals by every trio member, and covers of Monk, Berlinand Van Heusen, but the most compelling material is almost always the creative interpretations of Evans classics. On “Alicein Wonderland” (from the Waltz For Debby album), Gomez is bold and vibrant (and also turned up in the mix), but in an intelligent manner that doesn’t overwhelm. Motian, God bless him, is like a mime performance artist, doing ballet on the cymbal, using the notes he doesn’t play as a flotation device. “Diane” swings in the pocket and the ballad “Laurie” has a gorgeous intro (Gomez getting his dulcet tone on) that leads to a series of exchanges in the body of the song that are both tender and incisive. Not surprisingly, the “new” Evans tune, simply named “Song No. 1,” is probably the most straightforward treatment of Evans’ signature approach.
A couple of songs from the bop era, Monk’s “Rootie Tootie” and Tadd Dameron’s “Hot House” are useful for the more linear contrast they provide, although the trio continues to push the creative envelope – check the fractured Spanish rhythms on Corea’s “Another Tango.” Gomez unfurls a tour de force on a long, nearly-solo bass rendition of “Turn Out The Stars,” and Corea, with special help from Motian, proves a pretty waltz doesn’t have to be banal on “Very Early.”
In 1961, Evans released the album, Explorations. Calling this Evans tribute Further Explorations in 2012 is meant to underscore the journey Evans himself would encourage us to undertake beyond his legacy. This, rather than mere imitation, is the sincerest form of flattery.