Lengthy Solos Exemplify Five Peace Band's Wandering Style

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Nick Fradkin/Staff



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Arriving at Zellerbach last Saturday night, a busy hubbub suggested an impending eruption. Outside on Lower Sproul, fans scrambled desperately for scalper tickets to a show that had sold out two months prior, while the lucky ones joined the growing surge making its way through the front doors.

Once inside, the packed house buzzed loudly, simmering with the animated conversation of the mostly middle-aged crowd. The lights suddenly flickered and went dim. Emerging from the shadows, John McLaughlin held his guitar aloft like an idol of worship as he crossed the stage, followed closely by Chick Corea. The pair of jazz legends, touring together for the first time in 40 years, was received with raucous but short-lived applause: Corea perched at his keys, McLaughlin plugged in, and with a quick count the show began.

The five-piece band, which included double bass, sax and drums, ripped into "Raju," a showcase for the rawer solos in each musician's repertoire. While Kenny Garrett kept things grounded with his melodic sax lines, Corea explored outer space with a mystical keyboard solo, traveling in one run of keys the interstellar space it costs NASA billions to reach. Despite the many wrinkled faces in the building and a noticeable absence of tie-dye, it was impossible to deny that this music-jazz, fusion, whatever you want to call it-was downright psychedelic.

The catalyst was John McLaughlin, who sported a blazer and a white swept-back mane that gave him an uncanny resemblance to our first president. Standing motionless, he contorted the guitar like a master of torture, eliciting deathly cries from his helpless instrument. The crowd's reaction was fitting in its violence, a floor-pounding ovation more appropriate to a pep rally than a jazz concert.

On songs like "The Disguise," the band started slowly but inevitably stirred the crowd with unyielding solos. It was a night where virtuosity reigned and rhythm took a backseat-though stand-up bassist Christian McBride embodied both. Augmenting catchy funk rhythms with nimble embellishments, his frequent bass soloing was as fun to see as it was to hear, provided your seat afforded you the chance. Each finger moved independently, thumping the fat strings into dazed submission. During a break in "Hymn to Andromeda," he played bass with a violin bow, a la Jimmy Page, filling the hall with bellowing, demonic vibration.

Like the sound of a stubborn match, "Senor CS" began with a series of abrupt guitar notes, until suddenly it sparked, and flame ensued. The five musicians played frantically, the unmistakable sounds of McLaughlin and Corea rising alternately, then simultaneously, out of the din, into which Garrett added spurts of sunny sax. The music, like the song's concluding drum solo, was distinctive but completely devoid of subtlety, the solos blending together on songs that ran more than 10 minutes each. The divine melodies of the encore, "In a Silent Way/It's About That Time," only highlighted the rest of the set's tedium.

Except for the subdued encore, this night with McLaughlin, Corea and their Five Peace Band was anything but peaceful. Strange, yes, and loud, definitely, but for all its volume, the three-hour show had its sleep-inducing stretches. The band's sound-particularly its leaders soloing-is unique but nevertheless emphasizes solos. But after seeing grandmas jamming on air keyboards, it became clear that after more than 40 years in the business, McLaughlin and Corea know how to make their audience jump-osteoporosis be damned.


Perfect the art of air keyboarding with Nick at [email protected]



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