Hard to believe it's been ten years since pianist Chick Corea last did something in an electric vein. During those years he concentrated on a variety of projects, including his sextet Origin, his new trio with Jeff Ballard and Avishai Cohen, and duets with Gary Burton. But like Herbie Hancock, who also spent much of the last ten years in an acoustic context, the allure of a broader sonic canvas never left him completely. And so we have To the Stars
, where Corea reconvenes his classic Elektric Band lineup for an album that may not match up to what was arguably the band's finest work, '90s Inside Out
, but it's pretty darn close.
Corea's electric work has always had its share of detractors. Amongst the charges: self-indulgence, bombast and over-playing. But while there may be some truth to these charges, the reality is that Corea has always found his electric bands to be the most complete sonic orchestras, dating back to his fusion glory days with Return to Forever. And the Elektric band, with guitarist Frank Gambale, saxophonist Eric Marienthal, bassist John Patitucci and drummer Dave Weckl, creates one mighty noise indeed. From the Latin-tinged "Mistress Luck - A Portrait" and "Mistress Luck - The Party" to the more straight-ahead funk of "Johnny's Landing" and the more compositionally-expansive "The Long Passage," where wife Gayle Moran Corea builds a highly effective multi-layered choir, Corea and company deliver high-octane fusion that doesn't forget about groove and feel, even as it traverses some incredibly challenging passages.
While Corea's electric work has often been compared less-than-favourably with the work of others of his generation, including Weather Report, Mahavishnu Orchestra and Hancock's various electric projects, the one thing that is inarguable is that it has an identity. While the Elektric band is a different beast from Return to Forever, there's no question that they both stemmed from the same musical mind. The opening salvo, "Check Blast," with its mind-warping ensemble runs and awe-inspiring mini-solos with everyone getting brief solo time in duet with Weckl, may be a product of the 21st century, but clearly comes from the same composer that created Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy and Romantic Warrior. And while Corea's brand of fusion may not be to everyone's tastes, the fact that it has a distinct identity clearly gives it a weight that is difficult to dismiss.
And Corea is capable of writing complex pieces that still manage to remain accessible. "Alan Corday" is an all-acoustic affair, with an "impossible solo" for acoustic guitar by Gambale; Corea claims that the piece, inspired by a fandango rhythm originally heard on a record by flamenco guitarist Paco de Lucia, is "technically the most demanding tune I've ever written." But while Corea and the Elektric band manage to navigate some ear-bending passages, they are never less than musical. To the Stars is a welcome return for Corea to the energetic and complex electric music that gained him some of his greatest exposure.
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Personnel: Chick Corea (keyboards, piano), Frank Gambale (guitar), Eric Marienthal (saxophone), John Patitucci (bass), Dave Weckl (drums)
With guest appearances by: Steve Wilson (saxophone), Pernell Saturnino (percussion), Gayle Moran Corea (vocal choir)