Crate Digging: Remembering Chick Corea

Remember record stores? Remember the thrill of turning your friends on to new music by swapping vinyl and CDs? Yeah, we do too. That’s why we’re rebooting that tradition for the digital age with our “Crate Digging” podcast series, in which we’ll search through crates of our memories to bring you a handful of album recommendations on a given theme. It’s social media in the truest sense of the term: no algorithms, no computer-generated playlists. Just jazz fans sharing records with other jazz fans.

You can listen to the podcast version via the player below. Write-ups of individual albums and sample tracks follow. Welcome to the party! This week we remember Chick Corea, who sadly recently passed away, and talk about some of our favorite albums from his legendary discography.


Chick Corea, Now He Sings, Now He Sobs (Solid State, 1968)

I could think of no better place to start than with 1968’s Now He Sings, Now He Sobs. This was Chick Corea’s second album as a leader, following Tones for Joan’s Bones from two years earlier. By then, Corea had been playing in jazz circles for over half a decade and dazzling anyone he came in contact with. This was the record that firmly established him as a bandleader. A trio session with Miroslav Vitous and Roy Haines overflowing with creativity, blending hard bop with those Latin tinges that would be ever-present throughout his later discography. The original issue featured an all-original set and the 1988 reissue included more tracks from the session. Among them, “Windows,” which became Corea’s first composition to achieve standard status. – Matt Micucci


Chick Corea and Return to Forever, Light as a Feather (Polydor, 1973)

For my first pick, I jumped ahead to 1973 for the second album of Return to Forever, the jazz supergroup led by Chick Corea. Light as a Feather, featuring Stanley Clarke, Airto Moreira, Flora Purim and Joe Farrell, also included many of the keyboardist’s most famous compositions – from “500 Miles High” to “Spain” to “Captain Marvel.” The latter was so great Stan Getz used it as the title track of his own album from that same year. Moreover, with Light as a Feather, Corea and Return to Forever took the burgeoning fusion scene in a newer direction, mellower than the prominent muscular kind that Corea had helped pioneer in Miles Davis’ bands. It showed another facet of fusion, softening its edges and settling more into the grooves. – Brian Zimmerman


Chick Corea, My Spanish Heart (Polydor, 1976)

My Spanish Heart is one of Chick Corea’s most acclaimed and iconic albums, complete with a memorable cover artwork photograph with the bandleader posing in a matador garb. It also marked a real turning point for him as his first full-length album where he explored the Latin and Spanish side of his musical heritage and integrated a lot of the synthesizer technology he had been pioneering within a big band setting complete with strings and horn sections. “Armando’s Rhumba” from its tracklist quickly became one of Corea’s many standards and featured a stellar turn by violinist Jean Luc Ponty. The song was written in honor of Corea’s father, a Dixieland trumpeter/bandleader who introduced him to music and piano at an early age. – Matt Micucci


The Chick Corea Elektric Band, The Chick Corea Elektric Band (GRP, 1986)

I’m going to take us out of the ’70s and into the ’80s with the self-titled debut of The Chick Corea Elektric Band. This was a supergroup with Corea on synths and electric keys, Dave Weckl on drums, John Patitucci on six-string bass and Scott Henderson on guitar. This was the first iteration of the Elektric Band. This album stamped out that ’80s fusion would, which was more electronic than its ’70s counterpart, which was more reliant on MIDI, drum programming and synth patches. And it just leaps with energy. Corea’s patterns often feel complicated and impenetrable at first. Yet, the more you listen to them, the more you realize how truly melodic they really are. For me, this love of melody was the essence of Chick’s playing. – Brian Zimmerman


Chick Corea and Béla Fleck, The Enchantment (Concord, 2007)

I could have gone in many different directions for my final pick. However, in channeling the joy of discovery that I feel Chick Corea represented, I opted for one of his many standout albums in his discography that had somehow eluded me. I noticed that in many of his later interviews, Corea mentioned his collaboration with banjo virtuoso Béla Fleck and was delighted to find that their 2007 album, The Enchantment, is every bit as delightful as a meeting between two masters of their instruments should be. This dialogue-driven duo album brims with vitality and emotion. Corea and Fleck bond over their shared love of Latin music and revel in the magic offered by the unusual pairing of banjo and piano.Matt Micucci


Chick Corea, The Musician (Concord Jazz, 2017)

My final album is kind of a cheat because it’s a multi-disc set from 2017 of Chick Corea’s major three-week residency at the Blue Note Jazz Club in 2011, in celebration of his 70th birthday. The Musician came out as a set complete with a documentary DVD and a book full of essays and photos. The album is essentially a retrospective of his career with Corea performing in a wide variety of settings, reuniting his Return to Forever band, playing with such greats as Gary Peacock, Herbie Hancock, Bobby McFerrin and countless more. Whenever I find myself wanting to revisit his entire career and get a taste of what Corea did, I go to The Musician. Not to mention, it’s a live album and to hear Chick live was truly one of the biggest joys in jazz.Brian Zimmerman


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