Review Summary: Corea's elektrokoustic band.
Chick Corea is a household name in the jazz world. He rose to prominence in the late '60s when he joined Miles Davis' second quintet, inheriting the mantle from original pianist Herbie Hancock during the recording of 1968's Filles de Kilimanjaro
. Corea's opportunity to study at the foot of the master, at the exact point in time in which Miles Davis was undergoing a transitional phase that would revolutionize the jazz world entirely, was nothing short of destiny. The '60s jazz scene was all about pushing boundaries and questioning the norm, and musicians like Miles Davis were very integral in the evolution of the genre. Corea was no stranger to the modal and avant-garde scenes that were already thriving in the mainstream, but by being given the ability to be a part in the creation of Filles de Kilimanjaro
, he acquired a front row seat in watching Miles Davis discover and define the essential elements that would shape the sound of jazz fusion. Since straying away from Miles' outfit in the early '70s to pursue his own solo career, Corea has dedicated a grand portion of his career into integrating the ethics that he's learned from Miles Davis -- the otherworldly ambiences, the incendiary jam segments, and a restless obsession with innovation -- to fabricate his own brand of eclectic jazz.
presents itself like a window into Corea's own nostalgia. While Corea might be jamming with a new group entirely, the music he's written doesn't introduce an evolution in sound, but rather a profound look at who Chick Corea is. Practically every track in the album reveals something about his influences and previous works. There's a combination of both acoustic and electric arrangements throughout the album, and it's a choice that gives Corea the opportunity to not only cover his favourite eras in jazz, but to make references to his own various evolutions as well. Songs like "Galaxy 32 Star 4" and "Portals To Forever" definitely nod at the fusion repertoire that the Elektric Band conjured up in their debut in 1986. The sound and atmosphere is very laid-back here. The agenda in these tracks is to simply perform a traditionally-composed, melodic tune. Both "Galaxy 32 Star 4" and "Portals To Forever" are working with the bare fundamentals of fusion- the kind of structure found in Return To Forever's first two albums that still kind of operated with a post-bop mentality. In other words, the electric instruments are not used to their full potentials. There's no indulgence in distortion and the breakneck virtuosity is hushed, if not entirely absent. As usual, Corea's ensemble exploits some latin-styled vibes, particularly Brazilian rhythms and aesthetics. Each instrument works thematically to construct either a lively, yet dulcet theme or setting up the stage for the lead instruments to take the spotlight and simply shine.
"Galaxy 32 Star 4" is pretty much a solo show. Right from the beginning, the musicians sets up a template for everyone to take turns and build on. Although drummer Marcus Strickland and bassist Hadrien Feraud constantly challenge the rhythm with some adventurous movements, while not once disrupting the flow of the song, it's the synergy that guitarist Charles Altura and Corea develop near the end that takes the display of showmanship to whole new level of excitement (think "Al Di Meola days"). "Portals To Forever" is not only the highlight of the album, but it also presents us with a 'conventional' fusion track that covers all grounds. It starts off with a sturdy uptempo rhythm by Corea and Strickland, while saxophonist Tim Garland joins in and out to compliment the song with some relaxing notes. There's a unity of atmosphere and virtuosity in "Portals To Forever". It's a euphonic piece riddled with adventurously indulgent twists, from complex key and chord changes to altering time signatures that showcase stellar instinct and execution. It's very gratifying to see Corea channel the progressive mindset of Return To Forever, and compose a piece that consistently shifts into different forms and unveils a new ambience at every turn.
While The Vigil
is indeed a 'fusion-oriented' album of sorts, there's a number of fully acoustic pieces that brings a different kind of energy to the table. "Planet Chia" revisits Corea's love for traditional Spanish music, strutting a passionate flamenco-inspired segment by Corea and Altura's solo duties on acoustic piano and nylon-stringed guitar. "Pledge For Peace" is another piece written entirely under an acoustic set, but where "Planet Chia" focuses on euphony, "Pledge For Peace" decides to dwell into something a bit more dynamic. There's a '60s-Coltrane mindset that directs "Pledge For Peace." It's a modal epic with an experimentally-tinged feel, and so for most of the time, it acts like a stress-free jam where the musicians can let loose and improvise. Tenor saxophonist Ravi Coltrane and bassist Stanley Clarke guest star in this piece, and their collective improvisations really help augment the power of the track. Ravi Coltrane's solos are otherworldly in their own way, he erupts at his own pace with scalar notes and challenges the melodic framework with rhythmic variations. Stanley Clarke has his own solo in the midsection, and while there's pure dexterity flowing out of his fingers, it feels like an irrelevant and prolonged addition to the piece.
"Outside Of Space" and "Legacy" are the two most obvious references to the past that are present on the album. "Outside Of Space" feels like it could have been an outtake from either of Return To Forever's first two albums. Gayle Moran Corea takes Flora Purim's role here as an unnecessary singer in what would otherwise be a perfect lounge piece. Her voice just lacks any sense of captivation. While there is emotion in her singing, her performance feels far too forced and soulless to credit her as a worthy successor to Flora Purim. "Legacy" fast-forwards to a Romantic Warrior
-like style, but with some radical 'Circle-inspired' ingredients to spice up the track. It has the jazz-rock sound and spacey atmospheres of Return To Forever's latter efforts, but while operating under a flexible harmonic structure that allows the musicians a broader sense of freedom to manipulate the rhythmic and melodic framework of the piece with as much spontaneity as they please.
As I mentioned earlier, The Vigil
presents itself like a symbolic scrapbook. A compilation of some of Corea's best concepts all gathered together in one essential offering. There's some very remarkable playing and composing found throughout The Vigil
, and because of the diverse range of sounds and styles that the album chooses to work with, there's something for every jazz fan to mull over. Corea makes little to no slips in his persistent genre-hopping, which therefore gives The Vigil
a very consistent vibe throughout. He's like a mad scientist at work in this album, combining the elements that made his previous albums so enthralling -- the majestic melodies of his various solo works, the adventurous attitude of Circle, and the jazz-rock explosiveness of Return To Forever and The Elektric Band -- and breathes life to a new embodiment of masterful ingenuity.