Chick Corea and Gary Burton have played elegant chamber jazz together for 40 years — longer than some giants of the music walked the earth, notably Charlie Parker, Clifford Brown and John Coltrane.
It showed Wednesday at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall as their duo (Corea on piano, Burton on vibes) played as if reading each other’s minds.
Launching “Love Castle” — to warm up, Corea claimed — they divided the labor of this uptempo tune, with Corea muscling chordal ripples and Burton exploring the melody in staccato fashion, until it was Corea’s turn to lead and he quoted “What Game Shall We Play Today” before Burton joined in at the head.
They swapped roles in “Native Sense,” tossing its compact riff back and forth, but with Corea darting obliquely through this caffeinated melody while Burton commented.
Denim-clad and thinner than at SPAC a few years ago, when he led several different groups in the same encyclopedic set, Corea wasn’t happy with the piano’s sound, standing a few times to peer quizzically at the strings. In black, looking as he’s looked since the 1970s, Burton proved as talkative as the friendly Corea, explaining the music and giving a jazz short-course together.
Both turn 70 this year and came up musically in the 1960s: When Burton quit Stan Getz’s band to start his own, Getz hired Corea — that’s how they introduced Jobim’s “Chega de Saudade.” Both had played it with Getz, and both got hot with its Latin spunk — from the Carnival side of Jobim’s songbook. Earlier, they celebrated Art Tatum with “Why Can’t We Be Friends,” with Tatum-like speed and bounce; then “Eleanor Rigby,” as Corea hurdled zippy athletic chords while Burton evoked, singer-like, the melancholy of the Beatles’ saddest song.
Intermission followed “Saudade,” giving techs time to extract whatever fell into the piano strings, making Corea a happy soloist after the break. He charged into flamenco beats in “Alegria” — demonstrating its tricky rhythms with claps and stomps, Burton tapping the piano case before Corea dove into its rhythms at the keys.
Tadd Dameron’s “Hot House” was all crisp, knotty scales, Corea shrugging as fans in the half-full hall applauded his ease in riding them. Monk’s “Light Blue” got a wry reading, craggy bebop that underlined how funny Monk was.
“Mozart Goes Dancing,” the sole original (Corea’s) on their “Hot House” album of standards, was episodic where most tunes explored a single idea, and it featured crisp harmony playing (different notes, same places) into a spunky A-B coda. “Brasilia” offered some early dissonance that resolved into a tasty Latin atmosphere as the encore.
Both remain elegant touch players, but with full command of athletic energy, so they never took shortcuts through the intricately composed, ingeniously arranged and precisely but spiritedly played music they celebrated. It was a jazz master class, but delivered with utter joy and a total lack of pedantry or pretension.
And it was, ultimately, two old friends very much at play.
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