The music collected on the 2-disc Complete “Is” Sessions was recorded during three days of sessions in May of 1969. At the time the rhythm section, comprised of Corea, bassist Dave Holland, and drummer Jack DeJohnette, was working with Miles Davis, who was well on his way to defining a new sound with his electric band. The group is highly energized, displaying the same kind of kinetic restlessness that made Corea’s trio recording Now He Sings, Now He Sobs so effective.
On several tracks Benny Maupin plays strong post-hard-bop tenor solos. Maupin was usually playing bass clarinet with Miles at the time, and he also contributed mightily to the Herbie Hancock groups Mwandishi and Headhunters. Hubert Laws plays flute on “It,” a brief composition in the vein of Corea’s “Trio for Flute, Bassoon And Piano” and “Song of the Wind,” a lyrical waltz that was also recorded by Joe Farrell and John McLaughlin (who gave it the alternate title of “Waltz for Bill Evans”). “This” is a Corea composition that Miles played live through much of 1969, but never recorded. Chick plays both acoustic and electric piano on this cut, soloing on both instruments with a solo by Maupin in between. It’s a powerful performance and makes one wish there were even more recordings by this excellent combo.
Trumpeter Woody Shaw comes in for “Sundance,” a catchy Corea melody. While the piece develops the same free-form energy as many other cuts from this session, it definitely swings. Dave Holland’s composition “Jamala” is much more explosive, with Maupin and Laws providing frantic horn parts as Corea, Holland, and DeJohnette get way “out there.” Less convincing is the piece “Is,” which is a completely free 28-minute blowing session. How much you like it is going to depend on your stance towards free improvisation circa 1969.
It is wonderful that Blue Note has finally and definitively collected the tracks from these sessions into a coherent release. “Is,” “Jamala,” “This,” and “It” were originally released on the Solid State recording Is, while “The Brain,” “Song of the Wind,” “Sundance,” and “Converge” were released as Sundance. Over the years a variety of different releases have featured the various tracks and their alternate takes, all of which are included here.