Hyperbole is a dangerous and intoxicating drug. In the rapidly changing music scene of the digital information age, terms like “best ever” and “legendary” are tossed around with nonchalance. Every music writer is prone to it. While there is a lot of great music being made this year, not all of it deserves the praise it receives.
That said, there’s simply no way to avoid gushing praise for The Five Peace Band and their new CD, Live. It is among the finest jazz releases of my lifetime, and it’s fitting to have it come from the involved parties – Chick Corea (keys), John McLaughlin (guitar), Vinnie Colaiuta (drums), Christian McBride (bass) and Kenny Garrett (alto sax).
There are few combos who could endeavor to revitalize jazz in 2009, and this band is one of them. In a historical context, the group covers immeasurable ground. To contemplate the band’s combined musical experience is bewildering. Miles Davis, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Return to Forever, and Frank Zappa are just four of the multitude of names related to Garrett, Colaiuta, McLaughlin, and Corea, then there’s McBride’s lengthy list of cohorts, which includes McCoy Tyner and Ray Brown.
You could put this 2-CD set on repeat for days on end and never unravel the mystique behind this quintet’s relentlessly virtuosic playing. The set is masterfully indulgent, with four tracks that top the 20-minute mark and plenty of dynamic shifts, note flurries, and overtly intelligent musical conversations.
The band rips three burning fusion tracks of medium length to start the set – McLaughlin’s “Raju” and “New Blues Old Bruise,” along with Corea’s own “The Disguise.” They then present the highly involved half-hour “Hymn to Andromeda,” which showcases McBride’s bowed bass work during a lengthy buildup. McLaughlin, Garrett and Colaiuta eventually sidle up to McBride and Corea’s gentle duo work, and what follows is pure utopia for the ears, with each musician deftly following the others around a loose, playful progression.
The double album is of frighteningly considerable substance, and it would (and for someone with more free time, surely will) take days to describe it all in words. Such an attempt would undoubtedly fall short anyway. You could describe the swinging, bop-tastic bass lines and rollicking piano of “Dr. Jackle,” but could you also convey the dark edge that McLaughlin’s tone brings to the tune? What of the bass solo? The extended improvisation? And what about the other 18 minutes of the song?
The whole affair is capped off with fitting nods to their mentor, Miles Davis. “In A Silent Way/It’s About That Time” explores a wide range of possibilities, from funky fusion grooves to abstract moments and inventive solos. Their relatively concise reading of “Someday My Prince Will Come” features McLaughlin and Corea in duo formation, and their climactic festival of notes brings the set to an end with elegant reverence.
The icing on the cake is that the whole thing was recorded live, making the group’s accomplishments even more stunning. I don’t know that I could ever say enough about this release. Live could be a landmark album that serves to re-ignite the fire of jazz lovers and even turn on a whole new generation of musicians and listeners.
Rating: 10 out of 10