Here's a question. How could an artist with as much talent as Chick Coreafor the pretty and the trippy ( In A Silent Way ) and the flaming and the visceral ( Miles Davis Live At The Fillmore East 1970 ) and, some thirty years later, for the sophisticated and the swinging ( Origin: Live At The Blue Note ), with many a sublime moment in betweenhow could such an artist put his name to an album as shallow, mechanistic and pretentious as To The Stars ?
Things get off to an unpromising start when you learn that this, the Elektric Band's first album in about ten years, is Corea's musical dramatisation of one of L. Ron Hubbard's philosobabble sci-fi novels, complete with simulated rocket blast-offs.
Of course, you should be able to separate the music from the concepteven if Corea doesn't intend you tobut somehow it's hard to get the taste of snake oil out of your mouth....
There are grandstanding perma-climax solos and occasional sickening lurches in the direction of Planet Kenny G, the programming and fx budget is so massively pervasive that it's more like a hostile virus, there's an almost complete lack of group interplay in real time, and divine Latin rhythms like the mambo and the samba are reduced to a stolid generic gunk with all the danceability of set concrete. It is to jazz what Cliff Richard's Christmas singles are to the Mighty Clouds Of Joy.
That is not to say To The Stars doesn't have a few good moments. The "Port View" miniatures featuring Corea and Gambale effectively evoke the slo-mo beauty of observing the planets from the porthole of a spacecraft. And the technical chops of Corea, Gambale, Patitucci and Weckl are of course impressive, if only in a rock-god kind of way. But that's about it.
At the end, as well as irritation at the vapid portentousness of it all, and regret at the time you've wasted listening to it, you're left with the original question, unanswered. How could Corea do it?
Check Blast; Port View 1; Mistress Luck - A Portrait; Mistress Luck - The Party; Port View 2; Johnny's
Landing; Port View 3; Alan Corday; Port View 4; Hound Of Heaven; Port View 5; The Long Passage; Port
View 6; Jocelyn - The Commander; Port View 7; Captain Jocelyn - Tribute By His Crew; Captain Jocelyn -
Chick Corea, keyboards; Frank Gambale, guitar; Eric Marienthal, saxophones; John Patitucci, bass; Dave
In addition to writing and editing for All About Jazz, Chris is editor of the British style/culture/history magazine Jocks&Nerds and consultant Afrobeat historian for Google Arts & Culture and Partisan/Knitting Factory Records.