Fifty years ago this month, Chick Corea, then just 26 years old, assembled bassist Miroslav Vitous and drummer Roy Haynes for three recording sessions for what would become an album widely regarded as among the greatest piano trio albums ever released.
Now He Sings, Now He Sobs was recorded March 14, 19 and 27, 1968 at A&R Studios in New York City on the heels of Corea’s Tones For Joan’s Bones, which was recorded in late 1967. The album features five original Corea compositions, which helped to solidify Corea as a pianist and composer who would forge his own path into new realms.
Remarkably, this trio hadn’t much experience together at the time of its recording, in fact Haynes and Vitous were meeting for the very first time. Perhaps that lack of preconceived notions might just be the source of the spontaneous magic contained within. Completely attuned to each other, the trio is propelled throughout the record seemingly by the pleasure that comes from the subtleness of communication alone.
Corea at the time was listening to Bartok, Stravinsky and Alban Berg and experimenting with new approaches to his music as were much of his contemporaries. He was also exploring different philosophies and religions as evidenced by the album’s title, which stems from the ancient Chinese book entitled I Ching or Book Of Changes, where in which there’s a section “Now He Sings, Now He Sobs – Now He Beats The Drums, Now He Stops”.
The album was later re-released by EMI/Blue Note with an additional eight tracks, but it’s the original five tracks that are what has made this album so endearing.
The opening track “Steps-What Was”, the forefather to Corea’s later penned “Spain”, alternates between vague periods of reflection and melodic patterns and offers up an inspired and spirited solo from Haynes.
The most widely recognizable of the album’s five tracks though is the second track, “Matrix”, a blues with a nod to the avant-garde of the day. Balancing the harmonic pleasantries of modal, Corea solos with the ferociousness of bop throughout, with Haynes providing equal inspiration in rhythmic accompaniment. An ample amount of space is offered to Vitous as well in the form of unaccompanied freedom.
Reigning in the pace for the title track and the album’s third cut, “Now He Sings, Now He Sobs” is a rhythmically tense at times waltz.
“Now He Beats The Drums, Now He Stops” opens with a solo interlude from Corea himself with a multitude of inspirational depths and at times rhythmically living up to its title. Halfway through, the trio truly swings into action. Vitous again gets another spotlight to inject his own input, this time supported by Corea with Haynes again laying out.
The closing track “The Law of Falling and Catching Up” is a pure, unadulterated exploration of textures with Corea plucking at the piano strings and Vitous using the body of his bass as a percussion instrument. This is free jazz in all its glory.
All in all, Now He Sings, Now He Sobs is a wondrous, emotional, organic bounty that is just as relevant and inventive today as it was 50 years ago.