Kronomyth 49.0: ICONAKLASSICS. Now that the Akoustic (nee Elektric) Band had netted their own Grammy, what to do but take their newfound fame on the road. Alive features more of the same: jazz oldies rendered by a cross-generational trio intent on venerating and vexating the classics simultaneously. As I pointed out in an earlier review for AMG, this approach can be divisive for music listeners. In fact, even the trio seems divided on what they wanted to achieve. In most cases, Corea opens the tune with a thoughtful exposition of the theme, only to have Dave Weckl and John Patitucci come in and noisily upend it. (The experience is not unlike watching puppies at play and lamenting the once-loved, now-chewed objects left in their wake.) Obviously, a lot of people enjoyed this approach; they don’t just give Grammys away, although it seems like that sometimes. But the distance between Corea’s reverence and Weckl’s irreverence is too great a chasm for me to cross comfortably. When Corea is willing to enter to fray, as on the closing “Morning Sprite” (one of two CC originals on here), the trio can really tear things up in a good way. The Elektric albums clearly showed that Corea was able to keep pace as an innovator, but I suspect he’s something of a romantic at heart, and he wears it on his sleeve here, while Weckl and Patitucci might as well be wearing warpaint. Again, you may feel differently, “a new chassis for old classics” and all that, particularly if you enjoyed their earlier Akoustic expedition. The digital recording is exceptionally clean (a GRP hallmark) and the audience intrusion is minimal, so it feels more like a studio album most of the time and thus serves as a fitting bookend to the first Akoustic recording.
Kronomyth 43.0: ELECTRIOCITY. A new chapter for Chick, who takes two supremely talented youngsters under his wing and leads them flying through some spirited fusion music. This, their debut album (and first for label GRP), could be seen as a return to RTF’s old stomping grounds except that here Corea is the master, Patitucci and Weckl the students. The record follows a loose concept concerning life in Elektric City (an analogy for our own world), like most cities harboring both temptation and salvation. The playing is superlative as you’d expect; Corea remains expressive and entertaining even behind an array of electronic machines, while Patitucci and the unconventional Weckl show flashes of real fire. The trio also receives some help from guest guitarists Carlos Rios and Scott Henderson. If you’re wondering why the album rates an average orange (oh, he’s color coding them now), it’s because so few fusion albums really get under my skin. I’ve listened to this record at least two dozen times, and by now I look for the same payoffs: the lively “Got A Match?” with its shades of Birdland, and the two exotic bookends on side two, “No Zone” and “India Town.” The rest of the record is good, but it doesn’t affect me the way a Romantic Warrior does. To its credit, The Chick Corea Elektric Band benefits from a consistent musical vision. Corea albums from the late ‘70s could often hop around restlessly between classical, traditional and fusion jazz, but this is pure electric/electronic fusion from beginning to end. If you enjoy fusion for itself (or think everything by Weather Report is brilliant) than you should check out at least one Elektric outing (preferably one featuring Eric Marienthal). This is otherwise an auspicious start, suggesting that as Weckl and Patitucci develop they might themselves complete the cycle from students to masters.
Kronomyth 54.0: STORY TIME. In an act of mercy that must have been guided by the benevolent hands of angels, someone absconded with the liner notes to the library’s copy of Time Warp, which meant that I was spared from reading yet another nonsensical plotline that no doubt involved aliens, unicorns and telepathic flowers. You, on the other hand, with your jaunty ways, will be spared nothing, but subjected to an even more convoluted story of my own devising, for I am a mean and spiteful creature with no regard for the suffering of my fellow man… Chapter the First: Whirled Over. Two comical butterflies are dancing in the breeze when suddenly a giant owl swoops down to eat them because there is nothing comical about butterflies. Nothing. Chapter the Second: Lieutenant Warp. A Star Trek fan and a Star Wars fan are debating whether a photon beam is stronger than a light saber when a giant owl swoops out of the sky and eats them both. Because giant owls have to eat like 10X their weight every day or something like that. Chapter the Third: Wishful Tinkling. Water nymphs made up of millions of raindrops sail down an emerald river in a canoe they’ve fashioned from the husked-out carcass of a giant owl. A storm of saxophones ensues, blowing them off course into the Great Thorned Desert. Chapter the Fourth: The Great Thorned Desert (Which You Were Kind of Expecting, Weren’t You?). The water nymphs travel over the rough, difficult terrain by foot, over sand and thorns that protrude everywhere from the ground, dragging the giant owl husk behind them and using it as a shelter in the cold evenings. At night, the nymphs dream of the lesser water god Arndok, who tells them that his body is buried under a ruby thorn in the center of the desert. Chapter the Fifth: Larry the Lava God. Deep in the desert, Larry the Lava God guards the ruby thorn. He dances around the thorn, and his dance attracts the water nymphs, who join him, their bodies creating clouds of steam when they touch. They dance to a fanciful ruby rhumba, and the footsteps awaken the sleeping body of Arndok, who emerges from the ground and dances with them. Arndok has one leg as small as a twig and another as big as a tree trunk, which makes a loud thumping sound when it hits the ground. Together, all four of them pile into the owl canoe and sail into the stars on the moonsea, where they witness a battle between the blue dwarves and the red giants. Chapter the Sixth: Owl’s Well That Ends Well. Two butterflies are dancing in a dawn breeze, and we’re left to ponder: Was it all a dream? Did the Water Nymphs really ever exist? Would it matter if Chick Corea wrote an album based on the ingredients from a jar of pickles at this stage? The answer to all of these questions, of course, is buttons. If that wasn’t the satisfying answer you were looking for, be it known that this is actually a very good disk of post-bop jazz (quality-wise on a par with Paint The World), and hearing Bob Berg blow with Chick, Gary and Patches is a hoot.
“One of these days Alice,” said the Red Queen, “straight to the stars.” A reunion of the Chick Corea Elektric Band in its stellar quintet form becomes the launching point for this concept album based on the L. Ron Hubbard book, To The Stars. Space is apparently a swinging place filled with rumba and calypso music, at least some of the time, which is to say that Corea and company don’t really try to reinvent themselves for this outing; an album based on Watership Down probably wouldn’t have sounded much different. Corea goes ahead and aligns the music with sections of the story anyway (remember The Mad Hatter?), and breaks up the compositions with short space interludes that have nearly the same effect as Steve Miller’s segues between songs in the Seventies, suggesting that Corea might have the makings of an excellent space ambient album up his sleeve some day. The opening “Check Blast” is a cool collision of rock and spiky jazz, but it’s the noisy anomaly on an album just as likely to settle into five minutes of cosmopolitan jazz (“Mistress Luck-A Portrait”) or Weather Report-styled island fusion (“Johnny’s Landing,” “Hound of Heaven”). The quintet has only grown finer with age, and it’s a pleasure to hear them engaged in a vital new work rather than breeze through oldies or half-baked originals. Corea has explored many of these ideas before on past albums, with the spacey interludes being the new wrinkle in time. In my mind, fusion always looks better wrapped in the context of fantasy (Romantic Warrior, Where Have I Known You Before). The character of Captain Jocelyn, the piano-playing and enigmatic anachronism who leads his crew into space, must have resonated with Chick Corea, who closes this disc with pages torn from the original plot. Otherwise, as I said, it’s a somewhat loose interpretation of events, familiar electric fusion (plus the acoustic “Alan Corday”) with the usual Latin elements, smartly arranged and executed by a veteran crew. The thematic framework gives the music an added dimension, and it’s enough to propel this disc into my shortlist of favorite fusion destinations for the moment.