The best purchase for first-timers may be the 2003 double CD Rendezvous In New York. This live performance celebrating Corea's 60th birthday is not his most acclaimed album, but is an upper- rung title featuring him in a series of reunion concerts with various ensembles from throughout his career. Other potential first or early purchases include Chick Corea: Jazz Masters 3 for a good overview of his early days, Return To The Seventh Galaxy for his 1970s fusion, Remembering Bud Powell for traditional jazz and Inside Out for his 1980s and '90s fusion.
Tunes For Joan's Bones (aka Inner Space ) (1966)
Corea's debut album as a leader is largely a hard-bop session with a McCoy Tyner presence to it, but nonetheless is an enjoyable performanceespecially for fans interested in Corea's development. The original album is hard to find and Inner Space is missing some songs (with others featuring flutist Hubert Laws added), but a reissue CD combining Bones with bassist Miroslav Vitous' Mountains In The Clouds is available.
Now He Sings, Now He Sobs (1967)
Corea's breakthrough album contains only five songs, but eight additional tracks are on the reissued CD currently available. The trio session features bassist Miroslav Vitous and drummer Roy Haynes, and all but two of the compositions are originals by the pianist. Corea possesses a distinctive voice on this blend of hard bop and free jazz, but is still developing his eventual signature style. Among the more notable moments are his solo on the opening "StepsWhat Was," which contains the foundation of his subsequent famous song "Spain," and his one-at-a-time free-form exchanges with Vitous on "Gemini."
This trio album featuring bassist Dave Holland and drummer Barry Altschul isn't as avant-garde as the recordings they issued as the group Circle (which also includes saxophonist Anthony Braxton), but is a solid jazz outingsome argue the last for several years as he entered his Return To Forever phase.
Piano Improvisations (Vol. 1 and 2) (1971)
These solo performances of originals and standards are Corea's attempt to reach a wider audience, with both albums earning mixed critical and commercial success. One or both are worthwhile for collectors in particular, since they are markedly different in character than his other recordings of the period.
Crystal Silence (1972)
This collaboration with vibraphonist Gary Burton, one of several such pairings, is an upper-echelon choice among both fans and criticis. It features a strong modern chamber presence and is generally low-key in tempo, but has an intensity and depth missing from many of Corea's fusion recordings. Highlights include the nine-minute title track, reinterpreted from the first Return To Forever album, and the opening "Senor Mouse."
Return To Forever (1972)
The group's first album is generally considered its best, although as with a lot of other Corea's work this is sometimes (heatedly) debated. The music is Latin rather than the fusion and critics say a poor performance by Flora Purim on vocals distracts from what otherwise would be strong compositions. A definite buy for collectors; others should compare it to latter RTF albums such to see which incarnation they favor most.
Light As Feather (1972)
This actually ended up being the first album by Return To Forever available to the public, as the group's self-titled debut wasn't released until 1975. It shares many of the same strengths and weaknesses, but is less improvisational and finds Clarke providing a more commanding presence on bass. It is also, true to its name, lighter in spirit than its predecessor. Some complain this album is indeed "light," sacrificing the artistry of earlier Corea albums in an attempt to be commercially appealing. A double-CD reissue adds more than an hour of previously unreleased music.
Hymn Of The Seventh Galaxy (1973)
Guitarist Bill Conners and drummer Lennie White became the new accompanying players and the focus shifted to rock-oriented fusion with this release. Some consider this RTF's best fusion, others lean toward 1974's Where Have I Known You Before , 1975's No Mystery or 1976's Romantic Warrior where Al DiMeola replaces Conners on guitar. All are quirky and dated, and the names of many popular tracks in themselves hint at their eclectic dance-like nature: "Captain Sensor Mouse," "Theme To The Mothership" and "Captain Marvel," among others. Still, the musiciansmanship is hard to deny, even if certain themes turn off some listeners, and these rank along with Weather Report's albums as must-have items for anyone following fusion from the 1970s onward.