Matthew Shipp Talks Chick Corea’s The Vigil

Wow. The Talkhouse has asked me back to write about another record. Someone must have gotten something out of the piece I did on Keith Jarrett's ...

1. Intro

Wow. The Talkhouse has asked me back to write about another record. Someone must have gotten something out of the piece I did on Keith Jarrett’s latest album. Instead of calling this a review I would call it “observations along the way” — if I were reviewing this album I would take into account Mr. Corea’s intentions as a composer vis-à-vis what he wants to transmit to his audience, if it were to be a fair review. But, quite frankly, that is hard for me, for I don’t give a flying fuck about Chick Corea. Now, that is in no way meant in a pejorative way towards Chick. He and I just wake up every morning in completely different universes; his intentions actually frighten me. And the great thing about the Talkhouse is that, in having artists write about other artists’ work, you will have some unexpected symbiosis of different artists and you will have some tremendous collisions. So this is “observations along the way.”

2. My History with Chick Corea

Lest someone think I am trying to be a prick, let me state that even though Anthony “Chick” Corea has never been a primary source of inspiration for me, I have thoroughly enjoyed some of his work in the past. It has been 30 years or so since I heard 1968’s Now He Sings, Now He Sobs, with Roy Haynes, but I was a teen when that album had a beloved spot in my collection. I have no idea what it would do for me if I heard it today. And I think Chick’s contribution as a sideman to Pete (La Roca) Sims’ Turkish Women at the Bath (1967) is outstanding. That album also has the great saxophonist John Gilmore on it and I think it’s one of the great unsung albums in jazz. Heard there was a weird lawsuit when that album was reissued under Chick’s name, but that is another issue.

I’ve never been a Return to Forever fan and as far as Anthony’s early-’70s foray in the quote ”avant-garde” band Circle, I never went for it. I suppose the way I perceived it as a teen was I foresaw that I would be a major figure in that particular branch of the music — what some people call avant-garde jazz — and saw Chick’s vacation there as someone who was a dilettante, who was slumming for a while, and did not really embody that particular language, and therefore in that subset of music lacked authenticity.

3. The Cover of This Album

The album cover is provocative; specifically, it provokes vomit. He must be kidding with this cover — it was barely excusable in the ’70s — now it’s beyond a sick joke. It is reminiscent of the cover of Return to Forever’s Romantic Warrior (1975), so is it a hangover from the ’70s or some L. Ron Hubbard stuff? It mars the whole concept of the album and almost makes it difficult to take seriously the artistic instincts of this composer. The first thought when I saw it was, “Is he some type of sick creep or does he have such a great sense of humor that the joke is on us?”

4. The Coltrane Tribute

”Pledge for Peace” is a tribute to John Coltrane and features Ravi Coltrane. Does the world really need another Coltrane tribute? Doesn’t the great legacy of John Coltrane speak for itself? As for the title “Pledge for Peace,” does Chick think that after people listen to this music that all God’s children will play together in harmony? The world was a place with a lot of greed and violence before this composition and it will still be a place filled with greed and violence after this composition and performance. It seems so unthoughtful and corny to drag Ravi into this. From the little I’ve heard of his music he seems painfully aware of his father’s legacy and seems to be going out of his way to try to chart another course. Of course, I am being presumptuous — how do I know it wasn’t Ravi’s idea — and Ravi has the right to decide what honors his father best. Yes. But this still does not pass the smell test.

The rubato part is empty — gratuitous — offering nothing to the unfoldment of post-Coltrane language. It hits on nothing, it is all empty gesture. The swinging part sounds formulaic — academic — like an empty dead language. It offers no new perspective on a post-Coltrane universe; on this cut, Corea sounds like a glorified Berklee College of Music student. I’ve heard Ravi live playing with Rashied Ali, sounding great while he was evoking this type of language. That type of spiritual backbone is completely missing here.

5. Overall

As for the sidemen, well, the cats are playing their ass off on most of the album. They do everything asked of them. But at times, the music seems over-composed. The charts are very complex and the musicianship required to play this is on a very high level, but the themes are not profound and the improvisation does not seem to be overtly integrated and/or generated by the composition as a concept, so you are left thinking, “Wow, these charts are complex. How hard is it to play this?” Instead of “This really moves me on an emotional level.” Corea’s synth playing is kind of what it was in the Return to Forever days, and some of the piano playing comes at you as a great pianist who has an extremely sophisticated touch that comes from a lifetime of living with the piano. But at the end of the day, The Vigil is basically ’70s fusion, nothing more, nothing less. It is mostly extremely well done and professional but misses any edge.

In some ways The Vigil is a victim of a paradigmatic ’70s jazz marketing worldview. It does what it sets out to do. Its strengths are also its weaknesses.

Talkhouse Contributing Writer Matthew Shipp is a pianist and composer. You can visit his website here.