Well, as it turns out, what they call "fusion" doesn't really sound like anything other than jazz if it's played minus the electricity.
On Friday evening, Chick Corea led a trio with his friends Stanley Clarke and Lenny White, and the presence of those three names on one bill suggests only one thing -- the presence of progressive-jazz legends Return To Forever. Anyone coming with the hope of hearing the electric prog-jazz that band created -- "fusion," if you must -- was in for a surprise, however.
Return To Forever, one of the three premier prog-jazz bands of to emerge from the '70s, along with Mahavishnu Orchestra and Weather Report -- and of course, whatever group Miles Davis happened to be fronting pre-1980 -- reunited recently for a well-received tour. Friday's show was a different animal, however. This was about jazz players with long-shared histories getting together to celebrate tradition, and offer nods to their less straight-ahead work in the midst of this.
The three musicians received an appropriate response when they sauntered onto the stage a few minutes past 8 p.m. -- meaning, they were met with an ovation that acknowledged their influence on four decades of jazz.
Sitting at the Yamaha grand piano, Corea launched into a romantic introduction with shades of Debussy and Bill Evans, before kicking the band into a poignant "On Green Dolphin Street." The order of operations for the evening's solo performances -- Corea, Clarke, then White -- was established during "Green Dolphin." Corea delved into a solo that juxtaposed taut, chromatic, tightly knit passages against stabbing note clusters sporting disconcerting intervals. This grabbed the ears of Clarke and White, who responded in sympathy during their own soliloquies.
If you wanted a taste of the more progressive, intricate ensemble work that marked Return To Forever in particular and "fusion" in general, then you were not out of luck Friday. "No Mystery" belied its title with exuberance, but in the acoustic format, its thrills morphed from the visceral to the cerebral.
Books could be written on the individual brilliance of each player, both as ensemble participant and soloist.
This is exactly how a great jazz gig should go down. And if UB's Center for the Arts isn't exactly Birdland or the Village Vanguard, it most likely has far better acoustics than either of those legendary jazz clubs.
Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke and Lenny White Trio
Friday evening in the University at Buffalo Center for the Arts, North Campus, Amherst.