The recent posting of my review of Corea's 'Rendezvouz In New York' almost turned into a discussion thread, with five comments at the time of this posting. Admittedly two of those comments were mine, but every forum needs a good moderator.
This one should provide a few more laughs, as I rein in my diplomacy and tact a little further than normal to take a few shots at 80s fusion. The conclusion is fair though - this is better than those old GRP albums, where the musicians adorned the back covers sporting Miami Vice clothing and authentic mullet hair-cuts. Come to think of it though, that part of the fusion culture hasn't really changed to this day!!
Worth a listen for sure, and a fun way to commemorate the first thousand 'hits' on Afric Pepperbird...
CHICK COREA ELEKTRIC BAND
To The Stars
STRETCH RECORDS (SCD-9043-2)
Check Blast; Port View I; Mistress Luck – A Portrait; Mistress Luck – The Party; Port View II; Johnny’s Landing; Port View III; Alan Corday; Port View IV; Hound of Heaven; Port View V; The Long Passage; Port View VI; Jocelyn – The Commander; Port View VII; Captain Jocelyn – Tribute by his Crew; Captain Jocelyn – The Pianist.
Steve Wilson (ss); Eric Marienthal (as); Chick Corea (ky); Frank Gambale (g); John Patitucci (b); Dave Weckl (d); Pernell Saturnino (perc); Gayle Moran Corea (v).
No recording date available.
Whilst I’m a great admirer of substantial pockets of Corea’s work, I thought that his Elektric Band sound dated even 20 years ago. I’d never deny that their brand of airbrushed fusion made for harmless fun, but their synthetic glitz always seemed tasteless, and I secretly pined for something more substantial.
On reflection, the charts composed for the band were some of the most technically demanding that the pianist has ever written, despite their bubblegum veneer. Corea’s liner notes speak with great affection for this latest project (“the dream of a lifetime come true”), a musical voyage to the stars inspired by the L. Ron Hubbard novel of the same name. Hubbard’s interconnectedness to Corea’s outlook and work has never been more pronounced.
The music is by necessity highly cinematic, bringing to life various characters and scenarios from the book. Sadly, the opening bars of ‘Check Blast’ quickly confirm that everything that sounded dated 20 years ago is still in need of miraculous astral projection to even begin to sound remotely new or fresh today. Gambale’s lead guitar lines, all testosterone and laser-like precision, are now as quaint as glam-rock or doo-wop.
What is apparent, however, is a greater maturity and balance than those earlier efforts, almost as if the various novel electronic gizmos have finally been assimilated and put to the service of the music. Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, given that this isn’t the Akoustic Band, a high proportion of the pieces feature acoustic piano. Portraits of ‘Lady Luck’ and ‘Jocelyn – The Commander’ are fine examples, offering substance where once there would only have been façade.
‘Johnny’s Landing’ has some tasty Fender Rhodes to roll back the years even further, whilst ‘Alan Corday’ is almost straight-ahead jazz, boasting an impressive cameo by Steve Wilson and a momentary tethering of Gambale’s fireballs via his use of acoustic guitar. A series of short ambient ‘Port Views’ serve as interludes, reminding us, lest we forget, that this is a musical voyage into space.
For all my slightly jaundiced view of this side of Corea’s musical personality, To The Stars is as fully realised as any project he’s ever been involved in. A major success on its own terms, but whether or not you’re an admirer of this particular band is still, as it always was, a simple matter of taste.
(Jazz Review, October 2004)