Chick Corea, “The Vigil” (Concord). Tireless creativity is one thing when you’re 21. It’s another entirely when you are 50 years beyond that point. Yet Chick Corea is now in his early 70s, and still, he’s following the same modus operandi he’s followed since first emerging as a hot young pianist with first Stan Getz and then Miles Davis, the latter providing him with his point of entry into the upper echelons of jazz. Corea’s understanding of the jazz ethic meant that he responded to new challenges in real time, then as now. Thrown in at the deep end with Miles, Corea forged a unique voice, one that would do much to shape the sound of jazz in the ’70s, via his Return To Forever; the ’80s and ’90s, via his Elektric and Akoustic Bands; and into the last decade with, among others, the Five Peace Band, a collaboration with John McLaughlin, Kenny Garrett, Christian McBride and Vinnie Colaiuta. The “meeting new challenges in real time” concept required that Corea (like Miles did before him) always sought out new, young musicians with perspectives different from his own, and then wrote pieces with those players’ individual “voices” in mind. “The Vigil” is Corea’s latest foray into the forum of new possibility, and the band the album’s named for is composed of four young (or relatively young, in the case of renowned saxophonist Tim Garland, who has worked extensively with drummer Bill Bruford, among others) musicians, all of whom boast considerable gifts. “Planet Chia” finds Corea providing a vibrant theme atop a Latin-tinged motif, a forum for some intense soprano sax work from Garland. Guitarist Charles Altura then contributes an achingly paced solo on nylon string guitar. Beneath all of this, drummer Marcus Gilmore (grandson of jazz drumming icon Roy Haynes) and bassist Hadrien Feraud make dramatic shifts in meter sound natural and organic. This is Corea the composer and bandleader at his finest. Though there are no weak links in “The Vigil’s” chain, one piece stands a fraction above the rest. “Pledge for Peace,” a Corea composition described in the liner notes as “a prayer inspired by John Coltrane,” finds Coltrane’s son Ravi and longtime Corea collaborator Stanley Clarke joining the proceedings. The piece recalls the elegiac tone of the late Coltrane’s “Spiritual” and “Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise,” the two tunes that comprise side one of the legendary Coltrane album “Live at the Village Vanguard.” The ensemble is simply on fire here, bravely dashing off into parts unknown, but always knowing where home is. Masterful stuff. Fans of Return To Forever will certainly find much to love here, but “The Vigil” touches on myriad aspects of Corea’s lengthy and still unfolding career. It’s a thrilling, dynamic, deeply musical collection. ∆∆∆∆ (Jeff Miers)


Samuel Blaser, “Consort in Motion: A Mirror to Machaut” (Songlines). I love this disc. The first time trombonist Blaser made a disc melding Baroque music with jazz improvisation, it was with a quartet with pianist Russ Lossing, bassist Thomas Morgan and the late great drummer Paul Motian. They performed pieces inspired by Monteverdi, Frescobaldi and Biaggio Marini. This time, it’s a quintet with pianist Lossing, clarinetist and bass clarinetist Joachim Badenhorst and drummer Gerry Hemingway and they’re inspired by the 14th century music of Machaut and the 15th century music of Dufay. Please believe that with only one possible exception, no combination of jazz and classical music that you have ever heard even marginally resembles what these musicians do here. The one exception is the early recordings of Bobby Previte – most notably “Bump the Renaissance” – in which a wildly ambitious downtown jazz musician was making extraordinary use of the pre-Baroque music he’d studied at the University at Buffalo music school. What Todd M. McComb says in the notes is inarguable: that Machaut and Dufay in their era were “writing modern music ... it was innovative for its time.” So “why not interpret this music in a personal way? A museum-style performance cannot accomplish that vitality, making it modern, creating a new sense of living authenticity. Here we have an interpretation concerned less with the medieval sound than with the modern listener.” I wouldn’t claim every second of it is gripping, but the combination is majestic. ∆∆∆½ (Jeff Simon)


Elvis Presley, Elvis at Stax: The Deluxe Edition (RCA Victor/Legacy, three discs). Elvis Presley was the Memphis boy to end all Memphis boys. Stax was the Memphis record label of the ’70s just as Sun had been the Memphis record label of the ’50s. It was nothing if not natural that Memphis’ favorite musical native son (yes, the competition would be fierce – B.B. King, among others) would eventually find his way to Memphis’ McLemore Avenue to record with some of Stax’s favorite musicians as well as more than a few of his own (most notably his great traveling guitarist James Burton). In the years 1973 to 1975 Elvis was in desperate need of overthrowing the conspiracy of mediocrity that Col. Tom Parker and RCA Victor management had long since established. Enter Stax records, for some of the finest work of Elvis’ latter-day career. He sounds great on these three discs – not only when he’s singing but when he’s hacking around in the recording studio – making jokes, regaling his troupes with mock opera. The disc titled “The R&B and Country Sessions” is stronger overall than the Pop Sessions and the December 1973 masters. But there’s a wealth of very fine Elvis here from an era where there wasn’t always much of that to be found. This is the era of “Spanish Eyes,” “Promised Land,” “Good Time Charlie’s Got the Blues,” “Mr. Songman,” “Raised on Rock,” “Talk About the Good Times” and “It’s Midnight.” If you remember that this was both the era and the same RCA that gave the world David Bowie’s “Ziggy Stardust” and Lou Reed’s “Transformer,” it isn’t hard to figure that Elvis would be nothing if not restless with Col. Parker’s regimen of Hollywood hackery and Vegas pomp (though anywhere that Elvis went with his guitarist James Burton, something good could always happen). I think the exalted reputation of Elvis Stax recordings lies less with how great they truly are than it does with the great musicians he made them with and the sterility of so much else he’d been doing. ΩΩΩ½ (J.S.)


Shostakovich, “Rostropovich Plays Shostakovich” performed by cellist Mstislav Rostropovich and the Czech, Moscow and Prague Philharmonic Orchestras conducted by, respectively, Kirill Knodrashin, Aleksander Gauk and Yvgeny Svetlanov. (Supraphon, two discs). The mere existence of a cellist as great as Rostropovich was an inspiration to the greatest composers of his time – most notably, of course, his countryman Shostakovich, but Prokofiev and Benjamin Britten, too. The showpiece of this great two-disc set of Rostropovich playing Shostakovich is, of course, its most familiar inclusion – the great cellist playing Shostakovich’s Sonata for Cello and Piano in D-minor with the composer himself playing the piano from 1959. Heard here for the first time ever is Rostropovich and the Moscow Philharmonic playing Shostakovich’s first concerto for cello and orchestra, also from 1959. It goes without saying that the sound on these old Supraphons from 1959-67 is a bit less than plush, but the performance level is so high from all concerned that it is superb – so much so that two separate and distinct performances of the first concerto won’t bother you at all. Quite the contrary. ∆∆∆½ (J.S.)


The Deadly Gentlemen, “Roll Me, Tumble Me” (Rounder). A most unfortunate name for a neo-bluegrass string quintet (guitar, mandolin, banjo, bass, fiddle) that insists on writing its own songs, which are anything but deadly. (“Bored of the raging/I’m bored of the feeling/It only takes you up/ From the floor to the ceiling./I’m tired of just living./I’m tired of the real thing./Up and down all day./From the floor to the ceiling.”) A talented bunch. ΩΩΩ (J.S.)