Thursday, August 22, 2013

Review: The Vigil - Chick Corea

Personnel: Chick Corea: keyboards; Charles Altura: guitar; Tim Garland: tenor and soprano saxophones, bass clarinet; Hadrien Feraud: bass; Marcus Gilmore: drums; Perneil Saturnino: percussion; Gayle Moran Corea: vocals; Stanley Clarke: bass; Ravi Coltrane: tenor saxophone.

The recording begins with “Galaxy 32 Star 4” (8:20), with a slick fusion theme, electric piano and soprano sax in unison, upper mid-tempo, and a driving drum beat.  Chick starts off the improvising with a well-modulated electric piano solo, including a good share of bent notes.  Then Feraud plays a fleet-fingered electric bass solo composed mostly of eighth-note lines and closing with a flurry of sixteenth notes.  Then Garland plays a solo on soprano sax, with long, slick lines, skillfully building up and releasing tension.  Altura contributes an impressive electric guitar solo, with superb support from the other rhythm players.  Then there’s some nice ensemble work interspersed with high-energy drumming from Gilmore, and a fairly dramatic close.

“Planet Chia” (11:06) has Chick on acoustic piano by himself to start, then bass and drums join in on a mid-tempo tune with a Latin beat and an intricate theme with Garland on soprano sax, Altura on classical guitar, and Corea in unison.  Some improvising is interspersed with the theme, and the tune includes a clever, whimsical bridge.  Chick plays an acoustic piano solo, pretty but still forceful.  Garland then contributes a soprano solo that is thoughtful and soaring, employing a strong, clear sound.  Altura then plays a lyrical solo on classical guitar, not allowing his considerable technique to overwhelm his romanticism, interacting will with Corea.  Feraud then plays a solo on electric bass with smart phrases, again a marriage of considerable technique with musicality.  This is a very well-conceived cut, a fine showcase for the players’ abilities.

“Portals to Forever,” at 16:00, is like a mini-concert in itself.  The cut begins with an electric piano ostinato, and then a simple, earthy, mid-tempo theme played by Garland on tenor and Altura on electric guitar.  Chick then contributes a solid solo in classic Fender Rhodes mode.  Then there is a second theme, after which Garland (on tenor) and Altura (on electric guitar) trade fours.  Garland employs a thick, soft-edged tone on tenor, and he shows an impressive command of the altissimo range here.  Garland and Altura have a good exchange, but it’s hard to get a sense of what the can do when they keep breaking off for their partner’s turn.  There’s a repeat of the second theme, this time with Chick on acoustic piano, then he moves to synthesizer and trades fours with Feraud.  Chick then switches back to electric piano, and there is a third simple theme, this time including Garland on bass clarinet.  Gilmore then plays a sparkling, spicy solo with the third theme being played in the background.  There’s a brief interlude with a pretty line played by tenor sax and synthesizer in unison.  The cut then moves right into a swinging mid-tempo 4/4, a refreshing turn of events, and Chick plays an acoustic piano solo with his characteristic attractive, clean lines.  The group transitions to a new, more dramatic theme which is repeated throughout this closing section, with a driving Gilmore background. Garland then plays a skillful bass clarinet solo, throwing in a fast runs and high register screams.  The cut comes to a quiet close with a Garland bass clarinet cry in the background.  Though tightly choreographed through its different sections, this cut still manages to have a loose feel thanks to the effortless mastery of the players.

“Royalty” (9:18) begins with Chick on acoustic piano by himself but develops into a minor-key, mid-tempo waltz with the rest of the group, and then Garland plays the pretty theme on tenor sax.  Chick then plays one of his typically fine piano solos, the music here sounding similar to his excellent Friends recording.  Garland, affecting a somewhat airy tone, then plays a solo composed of a series of slippery phrases that add up to an interesting musical statement.  Altura’s electric guitar solo is mainly laid-back and circumspect, though he fits in a few high-flying runs.  Feraud finishes the solos with a fleet-fingered one on electric bass.  Throughout the cut, Gilmore is very subtle, guiding the music along firmly but unobtrusively.

“Outside of Space” (4:59) has Gayle Moran singing a haunting melody with a heavy and dramatic voice, Corea again creating a composition that’s intriguing harmonically and melodically.  I think a lighter voice could have done the melody more justice, but Moran certainly makes an impact.  Chick plays a brief acoustic piano solo.  Garland plays a nice bass clarinet solo with a sound in the upper register that echoes Moran’s voice.  The cut ends with Moran repeating the song and holding an ethereal note. 

“Pledge for Peace” (17:35) has as guest artists Ravi Coltrane on tenor sax and Stanley Clarke on acoustic bass; it’s also a live performance, which helps to explain its rambling length.  It begins with some acoustic piano flourishes, and then the other musicians join in for some meterless, loose improvising that lasts for close to 3 ½ minutes, with just the suggestion of a theme.  This gives way to a solid, mid-tempo, swinging groove with a walking bass, piano, and drums.  (The feel and harmonic structure here are similar to Chick’s Coltrane tribute on Three Quartets, “Quartet No.2 Part 2.”)  Chick then plays a nice acoustic piano solo that slowly grows in intensity (with Gilmore’s and Clarke’s assistance) until he cools things off.  Clarke then plays a dramatic and folksy a cappella bass solo.  Ravi contributes a soulful and rollicking extended tenor solo with a slightly raw tone.  The group goes meterless again to the close of the performance.

“Legacy” (10:00) has Chick back on electric piano and begins with some loose improvising in an upper mid-tempo groove, with Garland contributing on tenor sax.  (This loose intro goes on for about 2 ½ minutes.)  Then a nice fusion-y theme arises (and goes by too quickly), after which Chick first plays a synthesizer solo and then an electric piano solo, with simmering support from Gilmore.  The fusion-y theme is played again, and Altura plays a well-controlled electric guitar solo with fluid, cascading lines.  Guitar and sax repeat the theme, and Garland then plays a driving tenor solo, sounding very Brecker-ish.  The cut ends with more casual group interplay. 

This recording includes a bonus track: a live performance of Tadd Dameron’s “Hot House” (8:28).  I believe this is from the same live performance at which “Pledge for Peace” was recorded, so Clarke and Coltrane are on this cut as well.  The tune, slightly updated, is taken at a lively upper mid tempo and given a Latin beat.  After the theme, Chick plays a tasty acoustic piano solo, Gilmore percolating behind him.  Ravi plays a solid tenor sax solo with a few against-the-grain phrases thrown in.  Altura plays a straight-ahead electric guitar solo that closes with some flashy, fast lines, and Clarke plays a melodic bass solo with his big, rubbery sound.  Then the band trades fours with Gilmore, who has no trouble with straight-ahead bop drumming.  Chick gives his arrangement a fairly elaborate ending. 

Chick Corea is well-known for embracing many styles of music, including acoustic/electric Latin-tinged jazz (e.g. the first Return to Forever), straight acoustic jazz trio, fusion, post bop (e.g. Three Quartets), bebop (e.g. the Bud Powell recording), and forays into quasi-classical music.  (The variety is partly on display in the 10 DVD set Rendezvous in New York.)  Presumably he chose his Vigil band-mates to give him the flexibility to dip into many of his musical bags, and he really takes them out for a spin on this recording, which includes fusion (“Galaxy 32 Star 4” and “Legacy”), acoustic Latin-tinged (“Planet Chia”), post-bop (“Royalty,” “Portals to Forever,”  “Pledge for Peace”), and even some bebop (“Hot House”).  The music has the unique clarity and elegance that has been characteristic of Corea’s music throughout his career.  One never knows where Corea will go next musically, but based on the quality of The Vigil, he couldn’t do much better than to continue using this group to explore his multitude of musical interests. 

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