REVIEW: Chick Corea Elektric Band at the Barbican

Chick Corea
Photo credit: Paul Wood

Chick Corea Elektric Band
(Barbican. 24 June 2017. Review by Rob Mallows)

This performance was, literally, flawless.

Twelve years after their last record, 2004’s To The Stars, and decades after their 1980s touring heyday, the reformed Chick Corea Elektric Band gave an enraptured Barbican audience a masterclass in group dynamics, of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.

In perfect sync with each other and demonstrating virtuosity in spades, the Elektric Band put on a stunning two hours of the finest quality jazz fusion you are ever likely to see.

Chick Corea needs little introduction: Miles Davis, Return to Forever, band leader, 22-time Grammy winner, he’s a true jazz icon and very much first among equals in the band which bears his moniker. But equals the band are. Bassist John Patitucci, guitarist Frank Gambale, sax player Eric Marienthal and drummer Dave Weckl are each in their own right fantastic composers and band leaders, but together? Oh my goodness, they were simply… well… electric!

Dave Weckl
Photo credit: Paul Wood 

The CCEB is bound together by a shared capacity to create jaw-droppingly complex music with, apparently, little effort. Atomic-clock-accurate synchronicity, boundless creative soloing and effortless technical mastery of their respective instruments, each player seemed to be enriched by the rich soup of sounds emerging from Corea’s keyboards and emboldened to become part of a greater, unified whole. It sounds clichéd, sure, but if you were there, you’d know why such a rarified description was justified

Their collective creativity communicated itself to the Barbican audience, which I’ve never seen so animated and enraptured. Even the band tune-up got a huge cheer and hollers from fans, many of whom I could see were almost tingling with anticipation for what was to come. They left nourished and energised.

Drawing on seven albums’ worth of compositions since their 1986 debut, this ‘classic line-up’ played just seven tracks across two hours, but what seven tracks they were! Opener Charged Particles fizzed with levels of energy that can only be seen in the Large Hadron Collider, and each of the opening solos was an exhibition of musical wizardry: such complexity, such unexpected twists and turns, jaws across the hall dropped in unison.

76-year-old Corea is very much the father and spiritual leader of the band – he is around two decades older than his bandmates – but the pulsing heart of the CCEB is Patitucci and Weckl, who demonstrated their symbiotic understanding on Trance Dance; Patitucci was a portrait in studied concentration as he threw out 16th and 32nd notes like they were going out of fashion in producing some of the most fizz-pop bass soloing you’re likely to find anywhere this year. There can, arguably, be no tighter, more synchronised and propulsively exciting rhythm section than these two on form and it was evidently a pleasure for Corea, Marienthal and Gambale to pour on their fusion hot sauce, judging by their laughter and smiles on stage.

The secret to the CCEB’s sound has always been their perfect group dynamic and synchronous playing of the technically complex main themes of each track – even on the most difficult of riffs, the band was in complete unison. So technically perfect were they on a track like the Jimmy Heath-inspired CTA (Chicago Transit Authority) that if you closed your eyes, it was just like listening to the album version, so flawless were they.

This was music affixed to the jazz gold standard, so rich was the music on offer. Silver Temple – a piece written by Corea during a sojourn in Japan, which Patitucci described as ‘particularly challenging’ (but which the band went on to demonstrate wasn’t necessarily so) – opened with a Weckl drum solo. Dave Weckl is arguably the best technical drummer out there, and half of London’s drummer community seemed to be at the gig too, judging by the biggest roar of the night for this solo. The smile of sheer contentment on Patitucci’s face was obvious, like he was thinking, “Man, I get to sit in the pocket with this guy”. One lucky bassist.

Set closer Got a Match – from the band’s eponymous 1986 debut album – was epic. Yes, it does justify that over-used adjective. Corea evidently drafted the blueprint for modern jazz-fusion with Got a Match; if anyone ever wants to know what fusion is all about, point them to this.

Freed from his piano stool by a Yamaha key-tar, Corea led the Barbican audience in an impromptu sing-along to ever-more complex keyboard trills before opening up the throttle with the emblematic overture from this, their greatest ‘hit’. Every solo, every bit of interplay, every time signature shift was perfect. Perfect. Watching each of the band members in turn, you could see in their faces the joy of being part of something this special, this rare.

Chick Corea has given the world of music so much. For his creation of the Elektric Band, we have one more thing to add to our list of reasons to thank him.

Chick Corea Elektric Band
L-R: Chick Corea, Eric Marienthal, John Patitucci,
Frank Gambale, Dave Weckl
Photo credit: Paul Wood

Categories: miscellaneous

25 replies »

  1. I attempted the gig last night. Great review as you have put into written words what I have tried to describe people when they ask “was it good?”. Never having listened to much of Chick's music but was drawn to this gig by his rich history – I was just blown away by the sheer virtuosity of the whole band and was treated to 2 solid hours of jazz on another level.

  2. The best fusion band on the planet ..what a gig these guy's get better with age great great night at the Barbican endless energy and power WOW!!!

  3. I was there too. This was the best Chick Corea concert i ever saw. So good to see them all after 30 years together in best form. Here is absolute true written. Very good review, thanks !

  4. Totally agree, Wendy… I was there too… First time I'd seen them since the Festival Hall in 1990… If anything, and like a fine wine, they've got better with age!

  5. This may be a bit controversial, but I strongly suspect there was more talent in Chick's band than the combined talent of every performer at Glastonbury. I know where I'd have rather been that night.

  6. I suspect you would be right …. Ed Sheeran vs Frank Gambale on guitar, for example, not a contest. But, separate magisteria I guess, room for them both in the world of music.

  7. I think the other thing that made this show very watchable: unobtrusive, simple stage lighting. Nothing fancy, just well lit, enabling all the audience to focus their attention on the music.

  8. Very true. There were no stage lighting gimmicks to bamboozle you with. I also loved the way they all faced in on each other most of the time. It was like we were watching them during practice – although there was nothing unpractised about their performance.

  9. It was a privilege to be there. Afterwards I said to my son (currently studying jazz piano at the Royal Academy of Music) 'One day you'll be able to tell your grandchildren “I heard Chick Corea live!”'. And I'll take the experience with me to my grave.

  10. I've attended a lot of gigs at the Barbican, but I've never witnessed greater enthusiasm from the audience, as the band took to the stage. I'm sure the band fed off that, to produce a memorable night. Great review!

  11. Hehe! – my thoughts exactly. I took my son (studying composition at Birmingham Conservatoire) and hoped he'd feel the same in many years to come.

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