Review: Chick Corea Electric Band delivers a joyful hometown show at Clearwater's Capitol Theatre
It was supposed to be a night to shake off a little rust.
"We haven't payed for two months, so we have to rehearse again tonight," Chick Corea told the crowd before his Elektric Band's concert Wednesday at a sold-out Capitol Theatre in Clearwater.
But if there was any creak in the hinges of the Chick Corea Elektric Band, it didn't show. The first in a brief run of east coast dates -- and perhaps the most anticipated, considering Clearwater has been the iconic jazz fusionist's home for nearly 20 years -- it was a night of impeccable musicianship and joyful improvisation.
But what else would you expect from one of the most revered figures in all of jazz?
Corea, 75 years old and 50 into his life a bandleader, received a standing O even before his first note of opener Charged Particles, a downhill race of Corea's electric keys and guitarist Frank Gambale's crack riffs.
Like Jimmy Cliff or Al Green, he exuded utter joy as he played, leaning back and grinning as he watched bassist John Patitucci, drummer Dave Weckl or saxman Eric Marienthal uncork another virtuosic solo. He'd set the tone with a few frizzy, bubbly taps of his organ, but then he'd cede the wide spotlight to Patitucci for a plucky, pizzicato solo on highest frets of his six-string on Trance Dance; or Marienthal's whistling, scooting sax and Weckl's tap-dancing snares on CTA.
Whenever they'd nail it, earning a quick whoops of approval or a mid-song ovation, Corea would grin with a mix of wonderment and whimsy, seemingly as awed as his audience. And he delighted everyone in the encore, strapping on a keytar and initiating a house-wide call-and-response by playing a few notes and having the audience sing them back. He and the fans fell into a rhythm, and the whole band followed suit, skittering and skating and furiously roaring along.
While Corea barely mentioned the hometown nature of this show, it did have special meaning nonetheless. The Cap sits just around the corner from the spiritual headquarters of the Church of Scientology, of which Corea's been a member since the '70s. He played two back-to-back songs from 2004's To The Stars, an album inspired by L. Ron Hubbard's novel of the same name. The tone poem Captain Jocelyn began with Core pulling the room into his orbit with a noirish, almost avant garde piano before the band kicked in, delivering feverish solos over a lumbering rhythm. Alan Corday followed, with Gambale and Patitucci switching to acoustic instruments and, their fingers flying up and down octave after octave, just like Chick on his Yamaha grand.
But ever the bridge-builder, Corea revealed a different religious inspiration for Silver Temple: A visit to a Buddhist temple in Kyoto, Japan. It began as small blips on his organ, expanding outward in swirls and fractals until every instrument filled the room, a searing symphony of collaborative sound that once again left Corea smiling.
"This music is hard, you know," Corra confessed before that one. "Catch us in a couple more nights, we won't be reading music, that's for sure."
Forgive this humble pop critic, jazz fans, for disagreeing with the great Chick Corea, but to my tin ear the Elektric Band sounded terrific. There's no rust to shake off as Corea heads toward New York for a two-month residency at the Blue Note Jazz Club. After all these years, the band still sounds plenty fresh.
And so does Corea. In his diamond year, he's still a national treasure (can whoever's elected president go ahead and give him his Kennedy Center Honor already?). Lucky for us, he remains a local one, too.
-- Jay Cridlin