Chick Corea in Carolina

University of South Carolina Professor Bert Ligon has an excellent page with links to lots of jazz transcriptions, many by himself, and (I am guessing) some by his students. A highlight is a version of Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” solo with all 11 choruses vertically aligned for easy comparison.*  I came across this looking for analyses of tunes on Chick Corea’s Now He Sings, Now He Sobs, the classic 1968 album with Miroslav Vitous on bass and Roy Haynes on drums, and Ligon’s page includes a transcription of Corea’s solo on “Matrix”.

The Corea album still sounds pretty fabulous, by the way. I love the sound of Haynes’s ride cymbal – clicky rather than splashy – and how it nicely complements Corea’s airborne pianism. Haynes also offers a wonderfully gnomic drum solo on “Steps – What Was” – understated and powerful. There is a post-bop conception in the background of much of this album, but the surface is often modal (including a phrygian exploration that foreshadows “Spain”), with that modal framework sometimes filled with Tyner-esque pentatonicisms. I remain unconvinced by the free solo piano intro to “Now He Beats the Drum – Now He Stops”, which seems full of ideas, but unfocused and directionless. The free playing on “Fragments” is more compelling, perhaps because the interplay when all three players are present provides a framework that is otherwise lacking – hearing what the other guy is playing can lead you to make choices that in turn affect what the third person is doing. The album also includes delicious versions of “My One and Only Love” and “Pannonica”. The Monk tune seems especially apt. The head to “Matrix” is reminiscent of Monk in its methodical exploration of a musical shape and in the perfectly logical non-sequitur created by the atonal interjections between the diatonic phrases. There is a playfulness in the way the heads to both “Matrix” and “Pannonica” are articulated by Corea that also recalls Monk, even though the two artists have significantly different conceptions of piano sound.

*) It reminds me of the vertically aligned blues choruses from various historical periods in the 2nd volume of John Mehegan’s jazz piano method – decades of jazz history at a glance. It also brings to mind the essential edition of Bach chorales (scroll down) that the late Donald Martino created – he transposed various harmonizations of the same chorale tune to the same key, and vertically aligned them, arranging them from simplest to most complex as you proceed down the page. Being able to instantly compare multiple versions provides an extraordinary composition lesson and the collection is an invaluable pedagogical tool.

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