Personnel: Chick Corea (grand piano); Charles Altura (acoustic guitar, electric guitar); Tim Garland (flute, bass clarinet, soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone); Marcus Gilmore (drums).
Audio Mixers: Buck Snow; Bernie Kirsh.
Photographer: C. Taylor Crothers.
Chick Corea may have formed a new band, but still has ghosts from the Return to Forever reunion on his mind. Just check out the cover of The Vigil (named for this group) with its obviously L. Ron-inspired theme and track list ("Galaxy 32 Star 4"?). What year is this? That's not to make light of the music. Corea's international ensemble includes drummer Marcus Gilmore, French bassist Hadrien Feraud, Britain's Tim Garland on reeds and winds, and guitarist Charles Altura. While this is an electric band, it's not just a fusion group. These seven tunes (five are over ten minutes) reflect some of Corea's richest writing and arranging in years. While "Galaxy 32 Star 4" indulges fusion, Gilmore's Latin-tinged kit work and guest Pernell Saturnino's hand drums root this seemingly sprawling jam in the earth. Corea's solo moves toward the edges, but his melodic vamping on Feraud's bumping bass solo and Garland's gorgeous soprano arpeggios break it out of the genre lock. "Royalty," dedicated to mentor and friend Roy Haynes, features acute, crystalline melody lines exchanged between the pianist, Altura, and Garland. Gilmore -- Haynes' grandson -- swings deftly and physically to kick it into overdrive and bring it home. Samba flavors the melody and pace of "Portals to Forever," but Feraud's chunky, angular bass playing propels the rhythm outward, shifting tempi, yet Gilmore and Saturnino counter and keep it rooted in Brazil. When Garland's tenor enters to trade lines with Altura, post-bop enters to bring it to a close. "Pledge for Peace," with Ravi Coltrane guesting on tenor, commences speculatively with a spacy, imaginative frame that pays tribute to John Coltrane's early modal explorations and follows a line of transformation as the band engages modern creative post-bop through the middle before returning it to its Eastern-tinged mode in the extended outro. "Legacy," the album's final cut, is also its best. Garland's full-throated tenor and Altura's angular six-string ride atop popping snare and kick drum and guest Stanley Clarke's ebullient bass playing. Corea's solos engage and complement each player, while remaining the centerpiece. The colors, textures, and expansive rhythmic palette that surround him eventually create a maze-like melody that inserts itself into individual solos and falls away unexpectedly, bringing The Vigil to a close with intense clarity and focus. As a band, the Vigil is exciting as much for its potential as for the multifaceted talent the group members put on display here. ~ Thom Jurek