"Bleeding Orchid" (Chick Corea)
Featuring: Steve Khan (Ac. Guitar & Arrangement) & Otmaro Ruiz (Fender Rhodes)
Recorded between March 12th and April 14th, 2021
To PLAY the video, click on the image below:
When everyone in the community of music learned that Chick Corea had suddenly passed away on February 9th, 2021, it was as shocking a development as anyone could have imagined. Like many people, I just thought that Chick would be around making and creating music forever. His boundless energy would surely carry him through anything. As it turned out, few people, even some who were extremely close to him, actually knew that he was ill, this ill. For me, it was a really strange and difficult moment because, truth be told, I had never played with Chick and, even over all of these years, I never spent any serious time with him at all. We ran into one another backstage at several gigs and concerts, and the occasional cosmic accident running into one another at an airport - but that was it. Like many, I saw him playing a number of times here in New York, especially during the late '60s and the early '70s - mostly prior to everything related to the electric Return to Forever. I think that the last time I saw that band was very much in the beginning when Bill Connors was the guitarist, and they played at Carnegie Hall. One experience stayed with me all these years, and that was seeing his trio, Circle with Dave Holland and Barry Altschul at the Village Vanguard. It was stunning. Not long afterwards, I saw them again with Anthony Braxton, and that was a mesmerizing experience too. But all of that aside, Chick's impact on me as a musician, as a guitarist was quite profound. Most of that influence came from his early recordings in the '60s.
I wanted to express something about just what Chick Corea had meant to me, but with thousands of tributes being written and spoken about him, and by those who had been musically and personally so very close to him, what could I possibly add to that? Well, it took a few days, but I finally decided to write something personal about how I experienced Chick's playing and composing for the TRIBUTES page at my website. When great musicians have passed away and I have written about them, usually I make a little collage of album covers, the ones that meant the most to me. Often I can narrow that down to 3 - sometimes as many as 5. But in Chick's case, when I got to 5, I felt that this was just not enough, and so, I put together another 5 - it's the first and only time that I have done something like that. And in writing the tribute, I still mentioned a few other albums.
Amongst those 'extra' albums was Joe Farrell's CTI album from 1971, "OUTBACK" which featured Joe, Chick Corea, Buster Williams, Elvin Jones, and Airto Moreira. I always loved that album, though it seemed that, as the years passed, no one paid too much attention to it. One of the most significant parts of that album was Chick's hauntingly Spanish-influenced tune "Bleeding Orchid" which seemed to escape everyone's attention, and was out-of-view for the longest time. It was my recollection that Chick had never rerecorded that tune ever again. And so, I began to hear this piece of music in a different way - and, as the days passed, I felt like I was starting to hear an arrangement in my imagination, a way that I could personally interpret the piece, and in doing so, express my own great admiration for Chick, and everything that he had added to my own musical concepts - even the way that I came to approach the guitar.
The first step in my process was to actually transcribe and write out "Bleeding Orchid," which could be considered a ballad in 3/4. Once that was done to my satisfaction, I began to play the very expressive melody on my Martin MC-28 steel-string acoustic guitar. It seemed like the perfect vehicle for playing that melody, which Joe Farrell had originally performed on soprano sax - an instrument far better suited for the range of Corea's melody. I knew that I would want to perform the tune as a Latin-style Bolero in 3/4, with a solo section that would take it into the territory of a slow Afro-Cuban 6/8. It wasn't long before I had constructed an arrangement within a Pro Tools session, and in my imagination, I could now hear the players who would eventually replace my programmed samples - IF they were willing to participate in this form of a tribute - one that would have no real place to exist other than Facebook or YouTube. I certainly had no plans on being able to record a full album.
I needed a complimentary spirit on Fender Rhodes, or a Rhodes-like sound, and I thought of my good friend, now for some 22 years, originally from Venezuela, but long a resident of Los Angeles, the brilliant keyboard artist, Otmaro Ruiz! But, would he be interested in being a part of this? Something we would all be doing for "love" more than any remote possibility of immediate or eventual financial remuneration. As it turned out, and like everyone else, Otmaro is a huge Chick Corea fan - and he actually had never heard the only recording of "Bleeding Orchid"! So, as part of my proposal, I sent him a link to the recorded version from 50 years ago - and he responded that he loved the piece, and wanted to be involved. And so, with that key piece of the puzzle in place, my wish list for players became easily defined.
From almost all of my recent albums, I looked to Rubén Rodríguez to add his brilliance and soul on Baby Bass, a sound and feel which I love. And, I knew that I wanted Bobby Allende to play both conga and bongó. I sent these two Salsa and Latin Jazz legends the original version and a demo of my arrangement, and they were both on board. I was thrilled and greatly relieved to know that both of them would be a part of this. Though I had known about his playing, not to mention countless other valuable skills, it has only been in recent months that I have become colleagues and friends with Jimmy Branly, also a transplant to Los Angeles, this time from Cuba. Though Jimmy IS, first and foremost, a drummer, let me be very clear about that, I had really enjoyed my past experience working with Jimmy on timbal, and I knew that he would be a very musical fit for this, adding muscle and great creativity to the conversational aspects of making music. The process of pitching the project to him was the same as it was for Otmaro, Rubén and Bobby, and lucky for me, it wasn't long before Jimmy had become an integral part of the team.
The final piece would be to enlist the incomparable Rob Mounsey, my longtime close friend and musical partner for decades. Rob, with his usual beautiful spirit and unparalleled talents also quickly committed to this effort, and I felt secure that the end result could be something very special - and in realizing that, we would have our own heartfelt tribute to Chick Corea, a musician who had given us all so much, and left behind a musical legacy of such scope and permanence that it becomes impossible to quantify that effect.
To mix the music for this project, I called upon another very close friend and fixture of my recordings from the '80s just about to the present, engineer Malcolm Pollack, who has now been doing this kind of work from his new studio in Wellfleet, MA. We worked very hard at this to craft and sculpt the sound that I was envisioning, and after about 4-5 days of back-and-forth, we had something that we both could feel pretty good about. And, for me, feeling "pretty good" about anything is enough. When I sent it to Jimmy Branly for mastering, the best news of all was that he liked the mix. So, for me, that was the best possible endorsement of all of that hard audio work. And now, it's ready to present to you, the listener.
As this performance, this recording has no real 'place to be' within the business of music, Otmaro suggested to me that the only way to get contemporary people, young and old, those who actually enjoy listening to music, to hear it would be if there was a video. Well, at this stage of my life, making videos - the kind of sophisticated promotional tools that most younger musicians feel completely comfortable with - I don't have much interest in doing such things - nor do I have the technological tools to record such things at home. But for me, there was a really simple solution to that, and it was this. I would collect a series of at least 16 beautiful photographic images of orchids and, as this performance is nearly 8-minutes in length, if each image was floating on screen for roughly 30-seconds, that would occupy the entirety of our interpretation of "Bleeding Orchid." After viewing my selections, I could see that, in a few of them, there was space enough to do a nicely constructed credits panel - and, even with my modest Photoshop skills, I could put that together myself. And so I did. Of course, 1 just wasn't enough, so I did about 6 of them. Otmaro also told me that Jimmy Branly was great at assembling complex videos - so, something like this would be easy for him - especially because I would be supplying him with all of the elements that might have been tedious for anyone else. And so now, here we are, ready to present this to you, our listeners. Make no mistake, I am extremely proud of what we have created here. It comes with our hopes that you will enjoy it, and that it fills your hearts with good feelings for what Chick Corea has left to us all.
Steve Khan - April 15th, 2021
New York, NY