Review: Chick Corea Elektric Band

Mark Youll goes to the Barbican to see Chick Corea's original Elektric Band - Eric Marienthal, Frank Gambale, John Patitucci and Dave Weckl

Sat in the plush surroundings of the Barbican Hall between a snazzy-suited office type and a teenager in a Beastie Boys shirt, one is alerted to the fact that the first inception of the Elektric Band happened the same year Herbie Hancock dropped Rockit.

Though sonically divergent from the din of Hancock's turntable hit, the music Chick Corea's illustrious outfit made amid the 80s and into the 90s similarly referenced the sounds of the street. It also exposed Corea to a huge new audience wired into what became a new wave of plugged-in jazz.

Rebirths with alternative line-ups aside, the last time Chick and the "original" Elektric Band (pictured right) - bassist John Patitucci, saxophonist Eric Marienthal, guitarist Frank Gambale and drummer Dave Weckl - reformed was in 2004 to record and tour an album, To The Stars. This time around the plan was to play a week of shows at Catalina's in California followed by another five at the Blue Note in New York to commemorate Corea's 75th birthday last year. But excitement ensued, and things quickly spiralled into a full-blown tour that landed in London, 24 June.

"Thanks for that rousing London welcome", called out the youthful and hip-dressed pianist, as he and the band boarded the stage and the wild applause for their arrival faded into a ghostly wash of synth, cymbal rolls and brooding bass. These opening bars to Charging Particles hung eerily around the hall until an abrupt stab of sax and snare signalled a jump to a clear theme, driven by distorted rock guitar and a lively Latin figure between sax and keys. This was followed by a punchier Trance Dance which stirred excitement around the hall. Unfolding with the light patter and clatter of piano, rim knocks and cowbell, Corea and Weckl progressed to a more robust groove to support some wild tenor playing from Marienthal, his nasally, New Yorken tone soaring high over the wail of Gambale's guitar, before dying down behind a long, beautifully emotive solo from Patitucci.

While the music of Spain is often at the core of Corea's work, an inspired arrangement of Jimmy Heath's C.T.A. tonight was flamenco-free, cruising instead on a fizzy mix of fusion, swing and bop-like figures. A visibly excited Patitucci really shone again here. See-sawing between propulsive walking lines and fast, funky 16th notes, he created a hot bed for fours and some jarring rhythmic shifts for long, complex solos.

Midway into the set, as if to take a break from all the fireworks and speed-of-light riffs, the band stepped off the gas for an inspired piece based on a fandango rhythm by guitarist Paco de Lucia, Alan Corday. Through this long, intricately written arrangement Gambale strummed out a seductive line on an acoustic that, around the melody, ripened to something more vigorous and percussive against the faint bell-like chime of electric piano and Weckl's crisp tattoos on snare.

While Weckl could just as easily wow by supporting soloists or playing time, his own exemplary, room-rumbling solo to announce an explosive Beneath The Mask deserved the huge roar from the floor it received. Powered by a tight drum and slap-bass pattern that had every head nodding around the hall, the tune was pure funk of the highest order. It was a springboard for breathy, soulful sax and gymnastic guitar before a more manic Corea entered the mix, fearlessly flipping to double tempo and marking sustained piano chords with fidgety, pitch-bent flurries on Rhodes.

Having left the audience elated and numb with all the notes, segues and sections squeezed into Silver Temple, Corea (pictured left) called time on the set. But not before strapping on his trademark Key-Tar and calling upon the whole hall to join in on a little call and response to unearth one last tune. Humorously playing harder and harder riffs for the crowd to replicate Corea eventually slid into the familiar refrain to Got A Match? from the band's debut album. Slick with montuno-fast drums, heavy sax and axe and some fat funk bass, it was a fitting finale to this evening's show. A show that gave us Chick Corea at his very best, back with a band he could return to forever.

Photos by Jon Frost

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Your Comments:

Posted by Colin Reed, 10 July 2017, 11:25 (1 of 2)

Great gig it was, and a good review. However, Eric Marienthal was definitely playing alto, not tenor. He pulled out his soprano for Alan Corday, but didn't have a tenor on stage all night.

Posted by Nigel Jarrett, 1 August 2017, 18:04 (2 of 2)

True. A pal of mine was there and a tenor saxophone was not to be seen let alone played - so he tells me; and he studied music at Cambridge and jazz at the Guildhall.

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