100310 The Chick Corea Trio, Ottawa, ON

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One of the many great things about studying music at university was getting exposed to so much new music, as required by curriculum.

Case in point: in my second or third year I minored in jazz bass performance, and in lieu of a reading list my instructor gave me a listening list.  So instead of lining up at the bookstore I tromped to the nearest record store and ordered up a slew of CD’s.  One of the discs on the list was a newish one called Akoustic Band from a guy (it turned out) named Chick Corea so I could get a feel for the bass/drum relationship between John Patitucci and Dave Weckl (respectively).

So there’s no question that I was familiar with Chick Corea when the Ottawa Jazz Festival announced that they were bringing the pianist in for a concert at the Dominion-Chalmers Church on October 3rd, 2010.  But frankly Mr. Corea didn’t factor in to my decision to purchase a ticket whatsoever.  Nor did the inclusion of the great Christian McBride on bass.  Nope; I was there for Brian Blade.

Brian Blade is probably my favourite living drummer and he has been since the first time I saw him, when he stole the show (in my eyes) from Joni Mitchell, playing behind her sporting the biggest smile you ever saw and expressing the classiest, most finesse drumming you could imagine.  

The one time I had the opportunity see Joni Mitchell play live and I barely noticed her up there.  But that’s another story.

This story has me sitting up in the the left balcony directly above Mr. Blade where I had a perfect view of every stroke of genius, whether he made contact or not.  One of my favourite things about the guy are the notes he doesn’t hit.  Sure, all the best players are great at not playing stuff, but Brian Blade actually doesn’t play things all night, swinging his sticks and brushes around but often and regularly stopping a few inches short of hitting anything.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen him going at his ride cymbal with a nice, consistent beat, without actually hitting the thing once; nothing but silence and suppressed intention coming from his right hand.  It’s like he’s saying “This is where the beat is, but the song doesn’t need to be hearing the beat right now.  But boy oh boy if it did, this is where that beat would be.”  

And all the while he’s nothing but smiles. 

So chalk up another joyous evening where my musical heart all but explodes with glee and wonder, this time with Chick Corea and Christian McBride* providing the colour commentary.  I’ve seen Brian Blade play with so many people and it’s always the same quasi-religious musical experience.  His work with Daniel Lanois is nothing short of divine.

Brian Blade transcends time.  He paints pictures with meter.  The man’s skill and thoughtfulness is incredible to watch and a privilege to witness.  The show was worth the $50 ticket price in the first ten minutes.

I wonder if this is what it felt like to see guys like John Coltrane or Charlie Christian back in the day?  If so, get me a time machine.

*Both of which were unspeakably (untypeably?) amazing.

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