This rare club date by Chick Corea had been billed as the world premiere of a new band, The Vigil. The pianist/keyboardist, though, put it slightly differently. “Wow,” he said, “you turned up for rehearsal.” The gig, the first of two sold-out houses, was indeed slightly rough around the edges – a hesitancy here, a moment needed to gel there. But the finger-straining codas and mathematical rhythms that are Corea’s hallmark were delivered with awesome confidence. Saxophonist Tim Garland was in imperious command, young drummer Marcus Gilmore was superb and Corea was in storming form.
The set opened with Corea’s flowing, guess-the-tune piano intro, a flam from the drums cued time, and the band launched into “Hot House”. The 1940s be-bop classic gained a Latin beat, the tricky theme sounded even trickier and the coda, played in unison at full pelt, was a highly accented killer. Each musician had his say, there were shifts and turns, and high-powered, nerve-settling breaks.
With nerves settled, the band turned to three compositions from their new repertoire, and the sense of a narrative unfolding increased. There was a swirling ballad intro with Corea at his most lush on “Roy-alty”, Garland’s ruminating bass clarinet set up “Pledge for Peace” and then prowling late-night bass introduced “Galaxy 32, Planet 4” – the tune, like the tongue-in-cheek title, strung together classic Corea devices. Each piece changed shape, texture and time – sometimes on the fly, elsewhere on cue. There were solos that built to a roar, and delicate duets that shimmered in space.
But what really impressed were the contrasting styles of the musicians Corea had assembled. The keyboardist has always balanced the bombastic fusion of his Return to Forever group with orchestral work, piano trios and the subtleties of chamber jazz. This band, on first showing, has elements of each. Garland is a ferociously technical fusion player whose sentimental streak edges into chamber territory, while newcomer guitarist Charles Altura delivers nuanced harmonies with a singing tone. Bass guitarist Hadrien Feraud is a powerhouse who is happiest on fusion set-pieces, but drummer Gilmore is a wizard of orchestration and support with a light touch.
They certainly inspired Corea, and his twist-and-turn lines, stark modal chords and occasional bendy synth were razor sharp, right through to the finale, a fiendishly re-figured “Spain”.