Jazz Album of the Week: Chick Corea and The Spanish Heart Band Have Antidote for What Ails Us

Sep 9, 2019

September 9, 2019. Two things jump out when you look at the cover of Antidote, Chick Corea’s new album: 1) The NEA Jazz Master is very comfortable striking a flamenco pose. 2) For a guy who's 77 (but, really, for any age), the man’s got a terrific head of hair.

With his octet, whom he calls The Spanish Heart Band, Corea offers us Antidote as a means of finding the same for the stalemate and staleness of our political and cultural discourse. And while, disappointingly, no hair-care tips are offered therein, the album does deliver reimagined versions of Corea’s Latin-flavored classics (along with a few new originals) that offer hair-raising moments, even for the follicly challenged.

A personal highlight is a beefed-up “Armando’s Rhumba,” a tune Corea’s performed in myriad permutations over the years, from a solo-piano version on Expressions, to a take with vibes legend Gary Burton, to the original from 1976’s Spanish Heart, featuring Stanley Clarke and French violinist, Jean-Luc Ponty.

Anointing a favorite iteration might be as improper as voicing a preference among children… but, then again, to heck with propriety. A more danceable, hip-shaking, version there hasn’t been.

Pairing two fine percussionists in Marcus Gilmore (behind the kit) and Luiseto Quintero (congas) might be the difference, though Steve Davis (trombone), Jorge Pardo (flute) and Michael Rodriguez (trumpet)—in that order— make strong cases for themselves before ceding time to guitarist Niño Josele. He, in turn, facilitates a return to Corea and the rhythm section, but not before previewing a few tricks gleaned from Spanish master Paco de Lucia.

Phew. Wipe sweat. Drink water. Calling all zumba instructors—get this tune on your playlists.

Corea’s had a soft spot for flamenco guitar since working with the legendary de Lucia on “The Yellow Nimbus,” the masterful synth-driven composition from 1982’s Touchstone. He reprises that tune here as the album’s first single, calling this new acoustic arrangement “Yellow Nimbus-Part 2.” Two members of the late de Lucia’s band join Corea: the aforementioned Josele and Pardo, on guitar and flute, respectively.

Josele is a more-than-worthy torchbearer; his guitar playing is mesmerizing and elegiac, particularly the solo that opens the piece. Interestingly, Prado’s flute serves, at times, as a stand-in for some of the roles the synthesizer played in the original, especially when Prado and Corea play the melody in unison toward the tune’s end.

Bassist Carlitos Del Puerto, an alum of Corea’s Chinese Butterfly, is exceptional here, too, especially when the rest of the band lays back, leaving the bass to work out front, in duo, with a soloing Josele or Corea.

“Duende” is another tune sourced from Touchstone that, in the hands of The Spanish Heart Band, is transformed. The original, a neo-noirish theme propelled by strings and Leo Konitz’s alto sax, sounds like something scored for Roman Polanski’s Chinatown; the version here, while recognizable, is something that feels altogether different. More multicultural, to be sure, the depth of flavor may not be greater, but the breadth of flavors most definitely is.

Not to be overlooked are two guest-appearances by Panamanian vocalist Ruben Blades: a re-arranged “My Spanish Heart,” with lyrics newly penned by Corea, and the album’s opener and title track, “Antidote.” The latter, a new composition from Corea, finds Blades offering music—singing, dancing, listening—as an antidote, if not the antidote, to forces seeking to exploit the worst impulses of the human condition to sow division.

If the enthusiasm and cohesiveness of their colleagues is any indication, Corea and Blades may be onto something.