Chick Corea and John McLaughlin share one of the great pedigrees in the music of the 20th century: they were both key sidemen on Miles Davis' seminal albums In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew. They have played together since those heady days, as a duo or as sit-in guests. Five Peace Band was Corea's idea of putting together a dream band to play all kinds of jazz, and he approached McLaughlin. Corea chose the other members in saxophonist Kenny Garrett, drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, and bassist Christian McBride. The group toured for nearly a year following Corea's Return to Forever reunion tour, and this double CD was compiled from that jaunt. It's true that on paper supergroups are suspicious offerings. Not so here. This band includes three younger -- yet veteran -- musicians who team wonderfully with the two legends on this set. Of the eight pieces included here, five are originals -- three by McLaughlin and a pair by Corea -- along with Davis' "In a Silent Way/It's About That Time" (with Herbie Hancock guesting), Jackie McLean's "Dr. Jackle," and a reading of the standard "Someday My Prince Will Come" (a duet between pianist and guitarist that elegantly closes disc two). McLaughlin's compositions are fairly recent; they were recorded with his 4th Dimension group on his excellent Floating Point and Industrial Zen albums. As one can imagine, this material is played here the way it was there -- only more so -- as extremely engaging 21st century electric fusion. His other piece, "Señor C.S.," is reimagined from the studio version on Industrial Zen. Here it is played harder and faster yet gives away none of its Latin groove, and instead comes off as a new, much more technically ambitious mutation of samba.
It should be noted that the rhythm section here is nothing less than startling. McBride is equally at home on an electric bass, and his sense of fire, funkiness, and dynamic range is in every note. Colaiuta is simply one of the most talented and exciting drummers out there, and creates an art form of dressing his timekeeping in impeccable and imaginative ways. Corea's tunes are closer to something resembling mainstream jazz -- though the gorgeous and lengthy (it clocks in at over 27 minutes) "Hymn to Andromeda" moves gradually and beautifully to the outside, with beautiful playing by Garrett and McLaughlin, who can still handle non-fusion material with invention, restraint, and taste. Disc two begins with an odd, idiosyncratic reading of McLean's "Dr. Jackle" as an attempt to stretch hard bop toward something (via Corea's arrangement) -- but what it is, isn't quite clear. The version of "In a Silent Way/It's About That Time" with Hancock is the album's high point. He plays an electric piano and creates the necessary incantatory vibe in the ethereal, soft, speculative beginning for Corea to simply caress into being. McLaughlin just floats about as an accompanist to the keys, and when he does play single lines, they become hesitant, soft, direction-pointing exercises toward what is to come. When the tune splits and becomes more aggressive in the latter half, the band gels and he finds himself in the maelstrom as the two keyboardists vie for dominance and the rhythm section creates a sense of pulse and excitement. His solo is brief and to the point yet full of knots and turns -- his trading lines with Garrett is especially tantalizing. Five Peace Band re-creates an extremely ambitious and beautifully executed gig, where all players were firing on all cylinders.