PERSONNEL: Chick Corea, piano, Motif XF8, Moog Voyager; Tim Garland, tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, bass clarinet, flute; Charles Altura, electric guitar, acoustic guitar; Harien Feraud, bass; Marcus Gilmore, drums; Pernell Saturnino, percussion; Gayle Moran Corea, vocals; Stanley Clarke, bass; Ravi Coltrane, saxophone
At 72, an age when many are looking to take things a bit easier, Armando Anthony Corea is busier than ever. For the past decade, the 20 time Grammy Winner has been releasing new albums at the rate of a little over one per year. There have been trio dates, duos with Gary Burton and a couple of Return to Forever reunion tours. I think that those RTF reunions had an effect on Chick because his new album The Vigil has a decidedly RTF flavor.
Don’t misunderstand; The Vigil is not a Return to Forever album. Mr. Corea spends about half the time playing acoustic piano and he even drops a traditional 4/4 swing on a couple of tracks but after the last few projects with Burton, Eddie Gomez, the late Paul Motian, et al, I thought that perhaps Mr. Corea had said goodbye to his electric self after RTF played their last live sets in 2011. Thankfully, he had not. The album cover, with its decidedly L. Ron Hubbard-esque artwork, should tell you right away that the ‘Electric Chick’ is still with us.
This seven song set is Corea’s first album of all original tunes in over a decade. ‘Electric Chick’ throws the first punch on “Galaxy 32 Star 4”; a driving sharp-edged track with Chick burning up his synthesizers with glee and ample support from French bassist Hadrien Feraud and Marcus Gilmore, a world-class drummer whose work I’ve enjoyed for a while before finding out just today that he is the grandson of the legendary Roy Haynes (which explains a lot). Chick is shredding, Gilmore is throwing bombs and Feraud and percussionist Pernell Saturnino are setting a rock solid bottom. It’s a really powerful start. “Planet Chia” brings us ‘Acoustic Chick’ playing those rock infused Spanish rhythms that have been his trademark for decades. British saxophonist Tim Garland does some terrific work on soprano as Chick and Feraud egg him on. A Corea number like this would not be complete without a guitarist. Charles Altura, a name that is new to me does some impressive work here. “Portals to Forever” is an overt nod to RTF with Corea taking us on a 16 minute tour of the group’s signature styles both electric and acoustic. “Royalty” is a tribute to the great Mr. Haynes, Corea’s “hero, mentor and friend”, whom he met when they both played with Stan Getz in the mid 60’s. It’s a beautiful swinger in three with Corea setting down a relaxed line over which Garland blows a Getz-like tenor and Gilmore steps into his grandfather’s shoes; ably moving the tune forward while keeping impeccable time.
The album’s masterpiece however is “Pledge for Peace”; a seventeen minute tribute to the music and spirit of John Coltrane. This work unfurls in sections, like a symphonic movement. The dissonant intro gives way to an up-tempo mid section with Corea, Gilmore and special guest Stanley Clarke feeding off of each other as if they play together every night. After an epic bass solo by Clarke in the middle, it only seems natural to have a Coltrane tenor solo; and so we get one, from Ravi Coltrane, who seems to have fully come into his own over the last two or three years. His solo is one of his most impressive and fully realized that I’ve ever heard from him. There are still slight elements of his dad’s work in it but more than anything else I felt that this was his own style. Ravi may never be able to fully escape his father’s formidable shadow but he has finally carved out his own space. It’s an amazing track.
The core group that plays with Chick Corea on The Vigil is part of a new band that he has put together. That’s very good news. It’s also good news that he has written some very compelling music for this album. Because what it tells me is that we can expect a lot more great performances from a legend who is not going to be content to rest on his laurels.