The atmosphere was festive in the packed Catalina Bar and Grill on a rainy Tuesday night, and Chick Corea playfully invited the audience to do pretty much whatever they wanted at this so-called rehearsal. Yet the musicmaking was anything but ad hoc or casual, for this edition of Chick’s Elektric Band roared, sighed and carried on with remarkable internal discipline and intuition, like a single instrument.
The band opened a weeklong stand at the nitery three years after the release of the first Elektric Band album in a decade, “To the Stars” (Stretch/Concord). In some ways, this is now a back-to-the-future band, for the lineup of musicians is almost identical to that of the Elektric Band of the 1980s, with bassist Victor Wooten the only new replacement. Also, Corea loaded one keyboard stack with modified or new versions of old instruments that he played in the jazz-rock 1970s.
Thus, Corea could re-create his stylish Rhodes electric piano signature licks and silvery, slippery Moog synthesizer lines from the second Return to Forever band. Allowing for a slight contemporary digital glare, the old sounds mix more lusciously with the high-energy interplay of the Elektric Band — and Corea even revived some wonderfully weird, outer-space, ring-modulator effects from long ago to conclude “Johnny’s Landing” (now renamed “Dave’s Landing” after drummer Dave Weckl).
Alto and soprano saxophonist Eric Marienthal proved that context is important, for while his R&B-inspired licks might have sounded mundane with a smooth-jazz rhythm section, they fit beautifully and powerfully into this complex jazz-rock rhythmic web. Frank Gambale wailed like a rock guitar hero, and every stroke of Weckl’s busy, sophisticated drumming registered with pinpoint clarity. When the band veered into the backbeat-driven funk of “Beneath the Mask,” Wooten slapped away exuberantly.
Underneath all of the energetic soloing, one could also groove all night on one of Corea’s least-appreciated strengths: his telepathic ability to listen, adding all kinds of delectable, sometimes witty, often pithy fills and accompaniments without upsetting the line of the soloist.
This Elektric Band, a pleasure to listen to, reclaimed the legacy of jazz-rock before it became tamed and neutered into smooth jazz. Corea announced Tuesday that he would indeed venture back into jazz-rock’s roots next year, reuniting with Stanley Clarke, Al Di Meola and Lenny White as Return to Forever for U.S. and European tours.