Before we get to Charged Particles, the highly energetic opening opus from this long-awaited live release, the response we hear from the audience to Chick Corea merely introducing the band tells us just how popular this 80s-born Elektric outfit were, right up to their last reunion shows, three years before Corea’s untimely passing in 2021.
The Future Is Now is one of the last projects to be produced and overseen by Corea himself and brilliantly highlights, over two hours and two discs, the final Elektric Band tour between 2016 and 2018. The avid ovations we hear pre-show are for the classic line-up of bassist John Patitucci, drummer Dave Weckl, guitarist Frank Gambale and saxophonist Eric Marienthal – monster musicians then into their 60s, performing this music again with the same youthful energy they had in their mid-20s when the band first formed in 1986.
Their place in Corea’s faddish fusion group made them instantly high profile as players, so much so that each of them went on to land solo deals, work with other notable jazz figures and lead successful bands of their own. The music they made with their mutual muse in Corea though was unique and, as this disc (and album title) demonstrates, creatively ahead of its time. The veteran pianist considered the Elektric Band a continuation of his Return to Forever group of the 1970s and preserving a similarly orchestral approach and form to composition, seven slickly-polished studio albums from the band blurred the lines between jazz, rock, Latin, blues, classical, flamenco and infectious funk styles – all of which find their way into this new career-encompassing set.
From the familiar refrain of Corea’s opening synth ostinato, Charged Particles is met with huge applause, resounding tom-tom flams and slow, soaring guitar, before Weckl abruptly flips to a faster tempo to which Corea, Gambale and Marienthal play the tune’s busy main theme in unison. Over a now-driving drum groove, Corea’s gloopy motifs on Moog and some fast, funky finger-play from Patitiucci, the track spotlights a gymnastic Gambale in full noodle-rock mode. The seductive Trance Dance follows and past its light, bossa-felt beginnings, plays as punchy. Through much of the tune’s 15-minute spell Marienthal delivers some of his most breathtaking blowing of the set, and a solo that soulfully sails (and screams) over ruthless swing accompaniment towards a more emotive one courtesy of Patitucci.
Elsewhere, Jimmy Heath’s C.T.A is a live favourite that further flaunts the technical prowess of the bassist, here sliding from strong walking figures to more tangled melodic ideas motivated by Corea’s bop-fast Rhodes riffing and Gambale’s lightening blues runs. The track climaxes with a Latin-inspired solo from Weckl around a recurring turnaround riff before the whisper of soft piano ushers in Jocelyn The Commander, the first of three pieces to be played from the group’s criminally overlooked last studio album, To The Stars. Dramatic, atmospheric and sonically experimental in comparison to the Spanish-tinged Alan Corday or hard-shuffling Johnny’s Landing, it serves as the set’s only bona-fide ballad.
Despite audience response and ambience onstage on a high throughout, it’s fair to say that two of the band’s funkier cuts provide the biggest buzz. Yet whereas Beneath The Mask burns from the off, dynamically propelled by slinky, slap-pop bass, soprano sax and more playful pitch-bent keys, the band’s explosive 18-minute finale Got A Match truly magnifies the tireless drive and dexterity of this knockout band. Carrying enough ammo to swing hard at breakneck speed, swerve into a sassy half-speed section for sax and axe and still pack in five equally-stretched solos from all, to say this set ends with a bang is an understatement. In all, The Future Is Now serves as a fine and fitting farewell to, perhaps, Corea’s most popular and musically compelling collective, the likes of which we’re unlikely to hear again.
CD1: Charged Particles; Trance Dance; CTA; Jocelyn The Commander; Beneath The Mask (53.45)
CD2: Ished; Alan Corday; Johnny’s Landing; Got A Match? (65.05)
Corea (p, kyb); John Patittucci (b); Frank Gambale (g); Dave Weckl (d); Eric Marienthal (s). Live at Catalina’s, LA, Blue Note, NYC, Blue Note, Tokyo and Sotoma, California (2016-2018).
Candid Records CCD33002