Chick Corea was 27 years old when he released his second album, Now He Sings, Now He Sobs, in 1968. It was originally released on Solid State, a small and short-lived New York-based label that was co-founded, in 1966, by producer Sonny Lester, together with recording engineer Phil Ramone (who would go on to become a Grammy-winning producer) and arranger Manny Albam.
Attempting to shed light on the concept of Now He Sings, Now He Sobs and its song titles, Corea penned a prose poem which appeared on the inside of the album’s original gatefold sleeve. It was purportedly inspired by the famous and influential Chinese text The I Ching (also known as The Book Of Changes) and focuses on the vicissitudes of the human condition. Corea’s words highlight the fact that joy and despair, love and hate, birth and death, are all states of yin and yang that everyone will inevitably experience in their life’s journey.
It all sounds deeply esoteric but the music is much more direct. The opening cut, the 13-and-a-half-minute ‘Steps – What Was’ begins with a passage of discursive, slightly frenetic solo piano before a repeated fanfare-like riff signals for Vitouš and Haynes to enter. Propelled by the former’s fast-walking bassline and the latter’s crackling drums, the song takes flight into another dimension. Corea’s piano sparkles with a fleet-fingered solo.
The initial sense of brio and momentum dissolves after five minutes, with Corea and Vitouš dropping out, allowing Haynes to bask in the spotlight with a passage of skilful chiaroscuro drumming. After this, the band launch into a brand new passage of music. Driven by a propulsive groove, it features Andalusian-flavoured melodic cadences and harmonic components that Corea would later return to in his classic tune ‘Spain’. Vitouš shows both dexterity and invention with his bass solo near the end, counterpointed by some exquisite comping from Corea, before the track climaxes and then winds down.
‘Matrix’ is distinguished by a quirky theme before evolving into a thrusting swinger that is powered by Vitouš’ driving bass (he also serves up a brilliant unaccompanied solo) and features highly nuanced but skilful polyrhythmic drumming from the ingenious Haynes. Vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson was evidently taken with this Corea tune and recorded it later the same year on his Blue Note album Total Eclipse.
Now He Sings, Now He Sobs’ title track begins tentatively with martial paradiddles from Haynes’ trap drum before changing gear and morphing into an upbeat song characterised by glistening piano runs from Corea and muscular but fluid bass work from Vitouš. The interplay between the three musicians is astonishing and seems almost telepathic in the way they appear to anticipate each other’s actions.
The song ‘Now He Beats The Drums, Now He Stops’ begins with a long passage of unaccompanied piano, with Corea showing his total and consummate mastery of the instrument. His playing is by turns lyrical and percussive, reflective and dynamic, and though there are perceptible traces of Bill Evans’ musical DNA in his approach, his sound is unique. Vitouš and Haynes enter four and a half minutes into the piece and immediately transform what began as an ethereal meditation into a foot-tapping slice of advanced hard bop with sparkling solos.
The album’s epilogue is the eerie ‘The Law Of Falling And Catching Up’; at two and a half minutes it’s the shortest and most abstract cut. Corea and his cohorts improvise to create a spacey, extremely atmospheric slice of avant-garde sound defined by booming bass notes, stroked piano strings and various percussive effects.
Though it was only his second album, Now He Sings, Now He Sobs proved that Chick Corea was a bona fide jazz master in the making. He would go on to bigger things, of course – including playing with Miles Davis and founding the jazz-rock supergroup Return To Forever – but his only album for Solid State remains a musical touchstone in his canon.
|Brand||Solid State / Universal Japan|
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