“This is a rehearsal,” Chick Corea said Saturday night, before launching into the second of two performances in what he called a “homespun” affair.
Meaning: His relaunch of the Akoustic Band, 20 years or so after he, bassist John Patitucci and drummer Dave Weckl last played together unplugged, was unusually low key. No NYC Blue Note run this time. Minimal publicity.
Instead, the trio simply offered a pair of dazzling sets at the unassuming St. Petersburg College Music Center, something of a left-field choice for a major Tampa Bay area concert.
The intimate, 310-seat theater was near enough to the home of the celebrated 76-year-old pianist, composer and bandleader that he could sleep in his own bed that night. And there was solid family-and-friends support, as Corea’s wife, singer Gayle Moran, daughter Liana (also a pianist), and longtime recording-engineer associate Bernie Kirsh, were in the house.
It was all preceded by just one day — 7 or 8 hours, Patitucci told me Saturday morning — of rehearsals, on Friday at Chick’s studio.
“If we screw up, we’re gonna stop and play it again,” Corea added. Why? Because the shows were recorded for potential release on a live album, meant to be available in time for the band’s summer tours of Europe and Australia.
Indeed, they did stop and re-do a few endings. But that didn’t disappoint the overtly supportive audience packed with musicians; the trio got a standing ovation before playing even a single note.
The three, maintaining constant eye contact with one another and seemingly having a blast despite dealing with multiple quite tricky passages, offered a mix of old and new Corea compositions along with fresh arrangements of standards.
Opener “On Green Dolphin Street” began with an unaccompanied piano solo, while the band effectively amped up the quirky accents and stops on a gently swinging “Monk’s Mood.” An inventive take on “You and the Night and the Music” that had Patitucci bowing some lines on the sort-of coda.
“It’s basically a piano piece (rearranged for trio),” Corea said about his seldom-played “Continuance,” featuring long classical lines sometimes completed or doubled by Patitucci and, later, some herky-jerky swing.
Also from the leader’s bottomless well of original compositions: “Eternal Child,” recorded by Corea’s Elektric Band, which also includes Patitucci and Weckl, and the bouncy, leapfrogging “Humpty Dumpty,” first released 40 years ago — believe it or not — on Corea’s “The Mad Hatter.” For the latter, called “kind of a jam tune” by Corea, he at one point created a sound effect by reaching into the piano case and scraping the strings, and the wizardly Weckle provided another explosive, creative solo.
Throughout, Patitucci again demonstrated the beauty and genius of his whole-bass approach to playing, delighting listeners with solos built on virtuoso runs as well as melodic bits, including, on “Eternal Child,” a quick quote of “Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise.”
For the encore, Moran joined the group on the samba-driven “You’re Everything,” from Return to Forever’s revered 1973 “Light as a Feather” album. At one point, the unusually challenging melody line — originally sung by Flora Purim — had Moran briefly stopping and shouting, “These are impossible lines to sing!” She nevertheless hit most of the marks, and impressed with clear, powerful vocals. Call it a near-perfect finale.