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By Bob Weinberg
The Candid label plugs into Chick Corea’s fusion output with his Elektric Band, and premieres his orchestral celebration of Mozart and Gershwin.
During his long and accomplished career, Chick Corea prioritized his desire to connect with listeners. However, the pianist and composer, who died in 2021, also pushed boundaries with his inaugural recordings as a leader, creating fairly accessible modern jazz but hardly shying away from more abstract musical concepts. He’d delve further into avant-garde territory, particularly with the band Circle (alongside bassist Dave Holland, drummer Barry Altschul and saxophonist Anthony Braxton). Feeling disconnected from audiences with his outré explorations, Corea assembled Return to Forever, whose initial 1970s recordings encompassed Brazilian flavors and singable melodies. Subsequent iterations of the band leaned more heavily into fusion territory, with forceful expressions of electric guitar and synthesized keyboards and aggressive drumming, as RTF embraced science-fiction and fantasy elements inspired by Scientology founder and author L. Ron Hubbard.
Corea’s Elektric Band built on that fusion foundation, as heard on The Complete Studio Recordings 1986-1991, a new, restored collection from the Candid label of the band’s original five albums. Not that listeners would confuse the Elektric Band for RTF, as the music, starting with the band’s eponymous 1986 release, sounds very much of its time, folding ’80s rock and funk textures into the fusion mix. Corea utilized banks of synthesizers and MIDI technology as well as Synclavier, Minimoog and the era-ubiquitous keytar, while drummer Dave Weckl employed electronic drums for an enormous sound that truly drove the music, along with the elastic bass notes of John Patitucci. Like his former employer, Miles Davis, Corea continued to roll with the latest sounds and technology.
The Elektric Band’s second album, Light Years, showcased a new line-up, with Patitucci and Weckl continuing to supply the epic rhythms, while guitarist Frank Gambale replaced his predecessors Scott Henderson and Carlos Rios (who plays on one track here), and saxophonist Eric Marienthal lent an urban edge to the music à la fellow altoist David Sanborn. Three more RTF albums with this line-up followed: 1988’s Eye of the Beholder, 1990’s Inside Out and 1991’s Beneath the Mask.
In addition to the five original Elektric Band albums, the Candid boxed set features restored artwork, liner notes by Bill Milkowski, and reproductions of memorabilia from Corea’s own archive. While the original albums were edited and resequenced to fit on single LPs at the time, the new set brings the tracks back to their original running order.
In conjunction with the boxed set, Candid has also released The Future Is Now, an album of previously unreleased live recordings by The Elektric Band, albeit decades after their initial run and more than a decade after they had reunited and recorded the album To the Stars; Corea got the band back together again for a reunion tour in 2016 and 2017. He also selected the nine tracks on the posthumously released album, for which he receives a producer’s credit, and contributes liner notes and reminiscences along with Weckl, Patitucci, Gambale and Marienthal.
Completing the trifecta of Candid Corea releases, Sardinia presents another side of the mercurial pianist. In November 2018, Chick joined the Orchestra da Camera Della Sardegna for an evening of music, captured here, that salutes Mozart and Gershwin, adding his own touches to these maestros’ respective canons. Corea’s acoustic piano is heard in all its sparkling glory, in turns playful and emotional, and, as with his more rock-oriented output, designed to connect with the hearts, minds and ears of listeners.
Featured photo courtesy of Candid Records.