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January/February 2005

Chick Corea Elektric Band
To the Stars
Stretch

Chick Corea's proselytizing for the crackpot cult of Scientology has made many members of the jazz community uncomfortable over the years. His new album will do nothing to diminish the controversy. To the Stars was inspired by a 50-year-old pulp science fiction novel by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. The album is Corea's musical soundtrack to Hubbard's story, with themes dedicated to characters and scenes in the book.

Political and religious ideology aside, concept albums must stand on their own as music. This one doesn't. It reunites (for the first time since 1991) the original members of Corea's Elektric Band: Eric Marienthal, Frank Gambale, John Patitucci and Dave Weckl. There is firepower and technical expertise to burn in this group, and they never let you forget it. The opening cut, "Check Blast," sets the rules of engagement. There are thunderous electronic power chords, jarring rhythmic shifts, and sudden hand-offs from jittering guitar to keening preset synthesizer to staccato saxophone, then back around again. Concurrent with this intricate commotion is the relentless carpet-bombing of Weckl, who sounds like the world's most sophisticated drum machine.

This is music of enormous detail and complexity, executed with precision and white-hot intensity. But the crescendos are contrived, the sweeping gestures are grandiose and the flourishes are self-congratulatory. Some of the "Port Views" ("interludes portraying the vast vistas of space viewed through the ports of a spaceship") are entertaining as ear candy. But To the Stars is an "intergalactic instrumental journey" to nowhere.

Originally published in January/February 2005
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