by Austin Bealmear
Jazz fans should rejoice. Schermerhorn Symphony Center is bringing back one of the hottest bands of the post-fusion era – The Chick Corea Elektric Band. As part of Schermerhorn’s Jazz Series, the concert is Friday, October 14 at 8pm. (INFORMATION & TICKETS ON THE SYMPHONY WEBSITE)
Congratulations to TJBS member John Welker, winner of the VIP Package donated by the Nashville Symphony! John won a pair of tickets to the concert, an autographed CD, and a meet-and-greet with the band. Thanks to our friends at the Symphony for this great opportunity!
After 3 versions of the ground-breaking Return To Forever band, pianist/composer Corea spent the early 80’s on a wide variety of collaborations and solo projects. His return to hard-hitting electric fusion jazz began in 1985, when he started woodshedding a new rhythm section. Bassist and Brooklyn native John Patitucci began playing electric at age 10, went to the West coast to study classical bass in the 70’s, and was already a major player in jazz and pop recording sessions around Los Angeles when he hooked up with Chick. Drummer Dave Weckl left St. Louis to study music on the East coast, and had worked with a host of major acts when Michael Brecker recommended him to Chick for his new band.
I suspect that a lot of early material for the Elektric Band was worked out with the rhythm section, since the trio was together over a year before the first record was produced. With the addition of alternating guitarists Scott Henderson (remember Tribal Tech?) and Carlos Rios, the band’s first album, The Chick Corea Elektric Band was released by GRP in 1986. With these dynamic guitarists, Chick taking full advantage of the electric keyboard technology of the day, Patitucci’s 6-string electric bass, and even Weckl using electronics, plus memorable new Corea compositions, the record made him a lot of new fans, and announced to his old fans that this was going to be one of his hottest bands.
Within a year, Chick had found the ideal match for a permanent touring band, still anchored by Patitucci and Weckl. Australian Frank Gambale was a virtuoso guitarist teaching his innovative “sweep picking” technique at the LA Guitar Institute of Technology. After touring with Jean-Luc Ponty in 1986, he got the call from Chick. Saxophonist Eric Marienthal was a native of Southern California and, according to Eric, a big fan of Chick’s music, but was in New Orleans in the early 80’s working with Dixieland trumpeter Al Hirt, before returning to LA and joining the Elektric Band.
What became the classic Elektric Band personnel released Light Years in 1987, which was still electric sounding but funkier and even tighter, with more memorable compositions, and serious solo chops on full display. Concert tours proved that this band was even more impressive in person, solidifying world-wide popularity at a time when the jazz genre was being splintered into dozens of new and sometimes bizarre directions.
During the next 4 years, the band cut 3 more equally amazing albums, Eye of the Beholder (1988), Inside Out (1990), and Beneath the Mask (1991), plus 2 by the rhythm section, which had also been touring as the Chick Corea Akoustic Band, Chick Corea Akoustic Band (1989) and Alive (1991). By 1992, I would guess that all the members were getting interested in projects of their own, and by the final album, Paint the World (1993), the band would be called Chick Corea Elektric Band II, and Eric would be the only returning sideman.
Nearing the Elektric Band’s 20th anniversary, Chick brought everyone back, plus some guest additions, to record To The Stars (2004), an album of original music based on a science fiction novel, released on his own Stretch label. By then, every member had become a popular solo artist, leading bands, composing, and recording dozens of acclaimed CDs. All of their work is amazing and covers a huge range of styles; you should google their web sites and explore all of it.
This year, Chick turned 75 and programmed a massive 2 month birthday party at the Blue Note club in New York, revisiting many of his past collaborations, including the classic Elektric Band quintet. Here is his view on the reunion:
“The group sort of reformed itself with everyone’s desire to play together. I thought it would be an interesting thing, to take some friends that have experienced the road, through six album projects and tours around the world, and come together again—with everyone healthy and doing well — to make a new creation. That’s not usually done. You get reunions, and this will be a reunion, but I’m sure it’ll be a new creation. So it snowballed and boom, now we’re booking the band.”
I don’t believe the Elektric Band ever played Nashville, but some of you may remember seeing the trio at Vanderbilt’s Langford Auditorium in 1991. I had the chance to travel a bit back then and saw the Elektric Band several times. They were absolutely on fire every time, and I am looking forward to again experiencing music played with a passion and musicianship that I have rarely heard since then. The band is only playing 5 other cities before it winds up at the Blue Note party, and I applaud the Schermerhorn for giving us this rare opportunity to hear a major piece of jazz history, and 5 virtuoso musicians still at the top of their game. Do not miss this one!
About the author:
Austin Bealmear is a jazz journalist best known for his syndicated radio program, Jazz on the Side, that aired on WMOT for many years. He is also a past Executive Director of the Tennessee Jazz & Blues Society and is a frequent contributor to this site.