World-renowned keyboardist Chick Corea and vibraphonist Gary Burton have collaborated once again with the release of their new album Hot House. When I heard that they were working together, I got very excited. When I opened the sleeve and found a cover of “Eleanor Rigby,” my expectations went through the roof. But except for two tracks on the album, it never lives up to those expectations. “Eleanor Rigby” sounds like an elevator music cover with unexpectedly good musicianship. Even jazz greats like Corea or Burton should have at least attempted to do something innovative with the Beatles’ classic. Instead, I felt a certain unrest while listening to “Eleanor Rigby.” That earth-shattering interpretation just never came close to happening. It’s all the more disappointing given that the best of Chick Corea’s music are the songs you can’t sing along to.
At times it feels as if Burton and Corea are simply going through the motions of churning out another “great” jazz album. But there’s no new approach. “Can’t We Be Friends,” an Art Tatum standard, is technically spot-on, but it’s at best imitative. In fact it’s so precise that it edges on sounding square, though it captures Tatum’s characteristic catchiness.
Thankfully, the album isn’t all simple regurgitations. What really redeems Hot House and keeps me interested are the original compositions, particularly “Mozart Goes Dancing,” which is lyrical jazz waltz featuring a melody of discordant violins. The track takes 1940s jazz and brings in, as most modern jazz does, influences from many different genres. The song is upbeat, melodic and genuinely engaging, the kind of track that only Corea and Burton could compose.
Despite being somewhat predictable, I can’t stop myself from listening to the album. Generally, Hot House has left me feeling nothing but content. That would be okay if it was made by anybody else, but, with a Chick Corea album, content is the last thing I want to feel. I want to feel inspired, excited and even shocked by his creativity.
Overall the musicianship of Corea and Burton is absolutely superb. It is a perfect combination of complex left hand, contrapuntal lines with spot-on lyrical interpretation—which is a difficult balancing act in an album so technically complex. Maybe it’s that incredible dexterity in the compositions that keeps me listening even when the interpretations of classics fall short.