The complete "Is" session
Recorded by malcolm Addey at Bell Sound, New York City on May 11, 12 and 13, 1969
All Music Guide
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Chick Corea left Boston for New York in 1962 and immediately hooked up with the Afro-Cuban Jazz crowd, working and recording with Mongo Santamaria, Willie Bobo, Montego Joe, Sonny Stitt (Stitt Goes Latin), Hubert Laws and Herbie Mann. Thanks to his tenure in the Blue Mitchell Quintet and the Blue Note recordings by that group, his reputation as a hard bop pianist and fresh composer was also established. When Herbie Mann gave him the opportunity to make his own album for Atlantic in 1966, it was clearly a hard bop affair with his close associates Woody Shaw, Joe Farrell, Steve Swallow and Joe Chambers.
Chick's second album, the outstanding Now He Sings, Now He Sobs for Solid State in March 1968 with Miroslav Vitous and Roy Haynes, announced his presence as an important voice on the jazz landscape. Certainly the influences of Bill Evans, Herbie Hancock and McCoy Tyner were there, but Chick was extending his music to embrace freedom without chaos, to dare to create cohesive, spontaneous compositions and to endeavor to sustain interest in extended performances. To those who noticed, Corea had been growing in quantum leaps as a pianist and composer throughout the mid-sixties, and this was the first major statement by this consummate musician.
That September, fellow Bostonian Tony Williams recommended Chick for the seat that Herbie Hancock was vacating in the Miles Davis Quintet. He joined in time to perform on half of the Filles De Kilimanjaro album. Miles's music was in flux at the time and Chick found himself almost exclusively on electric piano. He also found an important musical partner in Davis's new bassist Dave Holland.
In early 1969, Tony Williams left the quintet to form his astonishing Lifetime with John Mclaughlin and Larry Young. The amazingly musical and powerful Jack DeJohnette was the band's new drummer. Corea, Holland and DeJohnette hooked up instantly. When this in-demand rhythm section did record dates backing up people like Eric Kloss, they were extremely inventive and respectful within the modern jazz tradition. But when they took the stage with Miles and Wayne Shorter, they exploded in a firestorm of electronic distortion, polyrhythms and free improvisation. One evening a couple of years later, during a casual conversation at my apartment, Chick told me, with a strange tone that sounded both mystified and regretful, "We kept pushing and playing free, waiting for Miles to say something about it. He never did, so we pushed harder."
It was while they were pushing harder that this recording session took place over three days in May 1969 at Bell Sound. The engineer Malcolm Addey remembers that when it was clear that Chick was going in a very avant-garde direction, producer Sonny Lester stepped back and let the pianist run the show.
These sessions have a checkered past. "Is," "Jamala," "This" and "It" came out on Solid State at the time as Is. The remaining four tunes came out three years later as Sundance on Groove Merchant Records. Over the years, various tracks and alternate takes of these tracks have popped up on a dozen labels around the world. The personnel on all of these releases is somewhat garbled, invariably leaving off at least one musician. They are, at last, collected here in their totality. Because the original four-track tapes can no longer be located, the alternate take of "Sundance" had to be transferred from an inferior LP pressing.
"It" is a brief, totally composed duet between flutist Hubert Laws and the pianist. Chick had been on all of Laws's Atlantic recordings (1964-68). While most of them had an Afro-Cuban direction, Laws recorded Corea's ambitious "Trio For Flute, Bassoon And Piano" at his final date for the label. This short piece is in the same mold.
"The Brain" and "This" feature the quartet of tenor saxophonist Bennie Maupin (whose name was left off both original albums), Chick, Dave and Jack. Maupin had played with Roy Haynes in the mid-'60s and had joined in Horace Silver's quintet a few months before this session. He had also recently recorded with Marion Brown, McCoy Tyner, Lee Morgan and Andrew Hill. Later in 1969, he would become Miles Davis's resident bass clarinetist on a series of recording sessions. His greatest statements would be made with Herbie Hancock's sextet, Lee Morgan's 1970 quintet (captured live at the Lighthouse) and the Headhunters.
"The Brain" is a very hip, post-hard-bop line that is very much in the spirit of Now He Sings, Now He Sobs. The alternate take is more concise and less intense - probably an earlier take. Chick is on acoustic piano for both takes. "This" has the kind of short, charging melody that appealed to Miles. He played this tune live with the quintet from April to the end of 1969, but never recorded it. The master take has Chick on electric piano throughout. On the longer alternate take (mistitled "Sundance" on a Denon CD and other collections), which was probably recorded later, DeJohnette is strong from the get-go and Chick switches from acoustic to electric piano, soloing on both with the tenor saxophone solo in between. In many ways, these are the most fully realized performances of these sessions. Ifs a shame that this quartet didn't record more.
Hubert Laws is added to the band for "Song Of The Wind" (aka "Waltz For Bill Evans"). Although "Song Of The Wind" was first recorded at this session, the first release of the song was on Joe FarrelI's Courage (CTI) with John McLaughlin, Chick, Dave and Jack, made in July 1970. McLaughlin recorded a solo acoustic guitar version as "Waltz For Bill Evans" on My Goal's Beyond (Douglas) later that year. Chick revived it under the original title on his stunning Piano Improvisations, Volume 1 in April 1971. Eddie Daniels cut it in 1992 as "Waltz For Bill Evans" on his Under The Influence (GRP).
For this lyrical waltz, Chick begins on acoustic piano, eventually switching to electric. It sounds as if Horace Arnold is adding some cymbal work to DeJohnette's drumming. Corea's on acoustic throughout the alternate (most often issued as "Waltz For Bill Evans"), which takes less chances and is more buoyant This is probably an earlier take; the drums lay out and Holland is a pillar of strength, nailing down the tempo and providing the momentum.