For the past half-century, on a jazz landscape that has seen its share of twists and turns, Chick Corea has always kept the faith - not just for himself, but for his peers and for the subsequent generations of musicians (and fans) whom he has inspired along the way. For the 20-time GRAMMY® Award-winning keyboardist and composer, jazz has always been about honoring and preserving the creative process and the creative spirit - the undying spark that reaches back to the very beginnings of civilization.
"Since the prehistoric days," Corea explains, "there has always existed a basic impulse in all people to entertain others: sing, dance, drum, play, tell a story, draw a picture - for one other person or for thousands, and with today's communication technology, for millions. To keep a persistent and steady vigil on this primal urge, and to keep the quality of this musical communication pure, alive and at the highest quality is the meaning and the message of the band that I have assembled. It is the vigil we try to keep and continually improve on."
The band is called, appropriately enough, The Vigil. It's an ever-evolving collective whose recording roster included saxophonist/clarinetist/flutist Tim Garland, guitarist Charles Altura, bassist Hadrien Feraud, drummer Marcus Gilmore, percussionist Pernell Saturnino and Corea's soulmate and wife, vocalist Gayle Moran Corea. The band's self-titled debut recording, The Vigil (CJA-34578-02), is set for release on Concord Jazz. In addition to the aforementioned lineup, The Vigil also includes guest appearances by bassist Stanley Clarke and saxophonist Ravi Coltrane on a tribute to Ravi's father John Coltrane, "Pledge for Peace."
The team plunges into uncharted waters with no hesitation. The opening track, "Galaxy 32 Star 4," establishes the otherworldly but upbeat tone that marks the entire seven-song set. It's a heavily syncopated and atmospheric composition, thanks to the intriguing solo work from all corners - most notably Corea's synthesizer, Altura's exploratory electric guitar, and the seamless churning of Gilmore and Saturnino on drums and percussion, respectively.
"The idea of life outside of Earth has always inspired me to envision a new and better existence," Corea says. "I consider what we have here and now on this planet as something less than the pinnacle of existence. I like to imagine what could be created in an ideal culture in a new world where the creative imagination is considered the most valuable possession one could have."
"Planet Chia" starts slowly, and in a contemplative groove, but the energy level escalates after only a few bars with the help of some high-speed interplay between Corea (on piano this time), Feraud on bass and Garland on tenor sax. Once again, the team of Gilmore and Saturnino is the rock-solid anchor that helps to hold the arrangement together.
"Portals to Forever" gets under way with a metronomic groove, but things loosen up quickly - enough for Corea's synthesizer to lead his fellow travelers on a journey where time is stretched and sound is a richly layered and fascinating reality.
Included in the second half of the set are tributes to two of Corea's primary mentors. Gentle and melodic at first, then later daring and ambitious, "Royalty" is a nod to drummer and bandleader Roy Haynes, whom Corea refers to as the "hero, mentor and friend" he first met in 1967 when he joined the Stan Getz quartet. "Our friendship comes full circle," he says, "as the drummer in this new band is Roy's grandson, whom I met when he was only 12 years old and playing great even then."
Similarly, "Pledge for Peace" is a cascading but insistent prayer inspired by the music of John Coltrane. The track features a guest appearance by bassist Stanley Clarke, another longtime member of Corea's inner circle of musical friends and collaborators. "‘Pledge for Peace' brings another relationship full circle," says Corea. "Shortly after Stanley and I first met many years ago, we spent an evening listening to Trane's Crescent and A Love Supreme. This moment of sharing ideas and interests became a touchstone of our friendship and our long musical relationship. I'm so glad Stanley could be a part of this new outing of my first band." The track also includes the transcendent tenor saxophone of Ravi Coltrane in a paean to his father.
The closing track, "Legacy," is an ambitious mood piece that leans heavily on percussion and uses melody and harmony sparingly - more as accents than as central components to the composition. The result is something that sounds very spontaneous and organic, all of which is fitting for a piece that Corea dedicates "to the creators of our music culture who have kept the vigil."
"I get the greatest pleasure out of seeing people happy and enjoying life," says Corea. "When all are smiling at the end of a performance - musicians, audiences, crew, organizers and all - I then feel like I've done my job well, and I'm inspired to create more music and communicate even more broadly. This is my greatest pay for all the effort at work. This is what makes being a musician such a joy. This is what inspires me to maintain the vigil."