As a Jazz pianist I pay very close attention to what the pianist in any given group is doing. So when a pianist is in the forefront of a group, I take notice. And, as far as pianist go, few can compare to Chick Corea. He has a great tone, plays with veracity, conviction, and speed. His melodic lines are dense and fluid, singable, and complex. His improvisation puts him in the forefront, but his ability to write memorable tunes is what sets him apart from the herd. Now He Sings, Now He Sobs is one of Chick Corea’s early classics. His fast paced energy, grooving rhythms, and soon to be jazz standards hinted at the great things that were to come. I will be reviewing the re release which contains 13 songs in case you have the original 5 song version. The 13 song version has the same songs with the addition of 8 more from the same session. As usual I will delve into a couple of key tunes since going in depth on all 13 would probably not be ideal.
The first record on Now He sings, Now He Sobs is called “Steps- What Was” and wow what a way to begin a record! The song begins with Corea just filling up space harmonizing and running licks as he pleases. A little bit of drumming but clearly the piano is in charge at this point. Then he establishes the grove on his left hand. He repeats it a few times to establish it as the band plays hits on the mini vamp and then off they go. Chick comes out flying pushing the tempo as the bass is running right alongside him. His left hand sort of plays the role of drums as he plays these big long chords to keep time and harmony established. His right hand is playing these complex long fast running lines. The combination of both of his hands gives this song such strength. His left keeps us grounded while his right pushes tonality. He comes back to the original vamp and then they transition into a drum solo. The drummer Roy Haynes has a nice solo and honestly, it’s a welcome change of pace from the frenetic pace we started with.
The second half of this song could’ve very easily been another song, but it’s not. So Haynes establishes the tempo and we begin the second half of the song. Again the groove just forces you to tap your feet and bop your head. Corea then goes on to solo. It’s amazing, he just ventures out and pushes how many notes he can play, the different dynamics he will use, and how outside of the implied harmony he will go. This is modern jazz at its very best. Miroslav Vitous take his first solo on bass and he does not disappoint. he keeps the concept of playing “out” modern jazz going. Plays deep low sounds, has a nice groove, and articulates his ideas well on the bass.They come back to the original idea and play it through and then Chick Corea fills in different rhythms, and licks as the track fades away. There you have it. 13 minutes and 49 seconds of musical perfection. A couple reoccurring grooves, two piano solos, a drum solo that transitions to another idea, and a bass solo. It would be hard to argue that any album has a better beginning than this one does. They reached the Mount Everest of Jazz, showed you the view, and then looked at the stars.
As I stated earlier I will not delve into every song, but I will discuss a few of my personal favorites. Really every song on here deserves a listen so please don’t assume that if I didn’t talk about it it must not be good. This is a classic album, you really can’t go wrong. Following “Steps-What Was” is “Matrix” which is a nice change of pace from all that happened on the opening track. Following “Matrix” is the title track “Now He Sings, Now He Sobs” which has a great piano and bass solo. The following song “Now He beats the Drum, Now He Stops” is not only a funny title title, but a great tune. It begins with just Chick Corea and midway through incorporates the rest of the trio.
Near the end of the album is one of my personal favorites, “Windows”. This song has a special meaning to me for several reasons. It was one of the first Chick Corea songs I’ve ever heard, it was my first really challenging transcription, and it’s considered a jazz standard. “Windows” is just beautiful. A clear example of why Corea is great. It just sounds right. You can sing along to this head and it just stays stuck in your head all day long. As he develops his idea and begins to solo he takes this song to the next level. Just gorgeous, powerful, voicings. Roy Haynes matches Corea’s voicings with dynamics on the drums and Vitous’ walking fills in the rest. Clocking in at 3:09 it’s one of the shorter pieces on this ambitious album. I actually think that’s a good thing. It leaves me wanting more and playing it over and over until I’m satisfied.
The album concludes with “My One And Only Love” which seems fitting since they take an old jazz standard and put a different spin on it. Corea solos using hard bop verbage but then expands the ideas a bit out there using elements of free jazz music which was still to come. He has running lines that become homogenized due to the speed he plays them in, its as if all those notes are just one sound. It’s a nice take on a old standard and hints at the future of not only Chick Corea, but of Jazz to come.
Thankfully not only is Corea still with us, but he is still a Jazz giant. Dropping multiple albums during any given year, winning and being nominated for countless Grammy’s, not only does Corea stay busy, he is still to this day arguably the best Jazz musician around. Buy anything and everything you can that has Chick Corea playing on it. I promise you it will be grooving, the solos will be burning, and the melodies will stay with you for a lifetime. If you have a opportunity to hear him live do so. Trust me it will be worth it. Corea is always experimenting and pushing the boundaries of Jazz. Attending a concert of his will be a memory that will last a lifetime.