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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

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