Five Peace Band
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Reviewed by Michael Fortes
With Five Peace Band, Chick actually has it both ways, mixing it up with a younger contingent as well as an old colleague. Uber-awesome guitarist John McLaughlin was right there with Chick during Miles Davis’ seminal In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew sessions, as well as Miles’ explosive Bitches Brew follow-up, Live Evil. These records basically paved the way for their respective careers – Chick moved on to form RTF, and John gave rise to the mighty Mahavishnu Orchestra, both key fusion bands of the early ‘70s. For the collective John would dub Five Peace Band, Chick drafted another Miles alumnus, saxophonist Kenny Garrett (the lynchpin of Miles’ bands from the late ‘80s through his death in ’91), as well as all-around awesome bassist Christian McBride and former Frank Zappa and Sting drummer Vinnie Colaiuta.
The "new" blood bears a strong hold over the old masters, driving the rhythms with a precise, almost clinical balance between controlled energy bursts and more traditional swing. Think of McLaughlin’s "Heart of Things" band with the fiery Matthew Garrison/Dennis Chambers rhythm section, with more straight ahead "jazz" thrown in for kicks, and that’s the basic feel of the Five Peace Band. And the straight ahead elements aren’t just felt in the original tunes and performances – the band pulls out a whopping 22-minute take on Jackie Maclean’s "Dr. Jackle," by far the band’s most swingin’ performance.
There’s some entrancing interplay throughout this set, as one would expect – the band’s beautiful togetherness throughout Corea’s and McLaughlin’s solo’s on the latter’s "Senor C.S." is a prime example. And yet, for all the musical muscle collectively wrapped up in these five musicians, the sum total always seems to fall just short of the monumental explosion their mere names imply. I lay the blame squarely at McLaughlin’s feet, if only because his guitar tone these days tends towards the softer, more palatable sound he has favored since disbanding the Mahavishnu Orchestra. On a piece like "In a Silent Way," "Senor C.S." and especially the duet with Chick on "Someday My Prince Will Come," too much crunch would have been overkill, true. But when you’ve got a sick powerhouse like Colaiuta behind the kit, and with fingers as unhumanly fast as McLaughlin’s, it’s a crime not to throw in some extra spice in the form of guitar distortion. Then again, it’s not 1970 anymore and not only are Chick and John a little greyer and mellower, their audience is too. For the rest of us, there’s always Live Evil.