Chick Corea: The Continents: Concerto for Jazz Quintet & Chamber Orchestra; What’s This?; Solo Continuum; etc

COMPOSERS: Chick Corea
LABELS: DG
ALBUM TITLE: Chick Corea
WORKS: The Continents: Concerto for Jazz Quintet & Chamber Orchestra; What’s This?; Solo Continuum; etc
PERFORMER: Imani Winds; Members of the Harlem String Quartet/Steven Mercurio
CATALOGUE NO: DG 477 9952

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Mozart has form with jazz musicians: Keith Jarrett, George Shearing and Chick Corea have all performed his Piano Concertos. In 2006, Corea was commissioned to write ‘a concerto in the spirit of Mozart’ by Wiener Mozartjahr (Mozart Year Vienna), to commemorate the composer’s 250th birthday. Corea responded with The Continents, a kind of swinging concerto grosso written for piano, quintet and chamber orchestra.

Each of the work’s six sections evokes one of the principal land masses. Jazz interaction prevails, with the full ensemble mainly contributing melodies and riffs, framing the quintet’s improvisations. But the overall variety of colour and attack, and the quality of playing are compelling, with Corea, saxophonist Tim Garland and trombonist Steve Davis the main soloists.

Equally intriguing is Corea’s take on the continents: Africa is brassy and pulsating, Europe the home of flamenco, Australia vast and mysterious. A combined North and South America sounds carefree and boppish, while Asia exudes dark nervous energy, and penguins frolic in the Antarctic. What does it all have to do with Mozart? Corea cites the master’s essential ‘spirit of play’, but I don’t see why that required a second CD of short piano improvisations and separate quintet tracks as a coda.

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Geoffrey Smith