My first encounter with the enigmatic jazz pianist Chick Corea, came some thirty years ago with his now legendary group, Return to Forever. That incarnation featured future legends, bassist Stanley Clarke, drummer Lenny White and Bill Connors. If my mind wasn’t already blown, it surely was after seeing the next RTF line-up, which featured the debut of a young guitarist named Al DiMeola. For three amazing nights in a row and a mere two blocks from my childhood home near the Carter Barron Amphitheater, I sat in awe of this groundbreaking new music that would ultimately become some of the very best of that bygone, jazz-fusion era.
Since that time, Corea has continued to amaze and astound; incredible solo albums; Grammy awards; his acoustic and electric line-ups; recent collaborations with the likes of banjo virtuoso Bela Fleck, and of course his “Elektric Band”. This latest version adds Flecktone alumni, bassist Victor Wooten and continues their stand at Yoshi’s tonight and tomorrow in Oakland.
Corea’s Elektric Band, is one of the most critically acclaimed jazz fusion bands of the past two decades. Following the demise of Return to Forever, Corea established the musical ensemble in 1986. The Elektric Band was a little different in style compared to Return to Forever, in that it signified a move away from rock-oriented fusion into a more Post-bop style. Following a long hiatus, the band reunited to produce “To the Stars” in 2004.
The first Elektric Band album can be described as “jazz-rock”, though it is much closer to traditional jazz than the jazz-rock albums of 1970s. The keyboard sounds on the album are typical for the mid-1980s. Weckl’s electronic drums dominate the album’s sound, with the guitar duties split between Scott Henderson and Carlos Rios. The second album, Light Years (1987) is more funk-oriented than its predecessor. Saxophonist Eric Marienthal joins the band and Frank Gambale replaces Henderson and Rios (who plays still on some tracks) to form what is considered the band’s definitive lineup.
The third album, Eye of the Beholder, relies on softer sounds. Here Corea relies on acoustic piano, with synthesizers largely in the background. Gambale also plays acoustic guitar on some tracks, lending a Flamenco-influenced sound to pieces like “Eternal Child.” The Elektric Band’s fourth album, Inside Out (1991), features some compositions that fall in the post-bop rather than the fusion category. The four-part piece “Tale of Daring”, which closes the album, relies on unconventional melodies and relatively free improvisation. But two other compositions, the title track and “Kicker,” are more traditional fusion pieces.
Corea still uses mostly acoustic piano, but Gambale plays electric guitar throughout. The last album featuring the band’s traditional lineup was Beneath the Mask (1991), a return to the electric jazz-funk of the second album. For the next album, Elektric Band II: Paint the World (1993), only Corea and Marienthal returned from the original lineup. The album’s style can be described as modern jazz, crossing between post-bop and fusion. The original members reunited in 2004 for To the Stars (2004), which is stylistically close to the avant-garde and post-bop on Inside Out.
Considering the staggering volume of his recorded output over the past 40 years, it is no overstatement to call Chick Corea one of the most prolific composers of the second half of the 20th century. From avant-garde to bebop, from children’s songs to straight ahead, from hard-hitting fusion to heady forays into classical, Chick has touched an astonishing number of musical bases in his illustrious career while maintaining a standard of excellence that is simply uncanny. By reuniting his ground-breaking Elektric Band and adding the unbelievable Victor Wooten on bass, Corea truly continues to blaze trails through a new frontier of electrifying, creative music.
Chick Corea Electrik Band
With Eric Marienthal, Frank Gambale, Victor Wooten and Dave Weckl
Yoshi’s Jack London Square, Oakland
Fri & Sat 8pm & 10pm $45
E. “Doc” Smith is a musician and recording engineer who has worked with the likes of Brian Eno, Madonna, Warren Zevon, Mickey Hart, Jimmy Cliff, and John Mayall among others. He is also the inventor of the musical instrument, the Drummstick. He can be reached at myspace.com/edoctorsmithFiled under: Arts & Entertainment