I went through my jazz-fusion phase back in the late ’80s and was introduced to the likes of Stanley Clarke, Larry Carlton, Al DiMeola, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Weather Report, and of course Chick Corea and his work with Return To Forever and the Elektric Band. I was always more of a fan of guitar-driven jazz, which is why a lot of the jazz-rock fusion stuff was most appealing to me. The first Elektric Band album featured Carlos Rios and Scott Henderson on guitar, and the next five featured Frank Gambale. In 1993, Paint The World would be released under the moniker Elektric Band II, featuring Mike Miller on guitar, and cementing the fact that Corea is one of the finest purveyors of guitar talent in the business.
Corea, of course, cut his teeth in the jazz big leagues as the keyboardist in Miles Davis’ band, appearing on his seminal In A Silent Way and Bitches Brew albums of 1969. The first Elektric Band album appeared in 1986 and featured the original lineup of Corea, John Patitucci on bass, Dave Weckl on drums, and Henderson and Rios on guitars. By the second album, Light Years, the lineup that appears on this DVD, and the rest of the Elektric Band albums, was fully intact, consisting of Corea, Patitucci, Weckl, Gambale, and Eric Marienthal on sax. If you are into this type of jazz-fusion then you are in for one hell of a treat, because each of these musicians are arguably the best there is on their respective instruments.
This style of music is certainly an acquired taste and may be difficult for many rock and casual jazz fans to digest. It is definitely "musicians music". No verse-chorus-verse, no singing, and no pretty melodies to get in the way of the virtuosity on display – just some straight-up, world-class, jazz-fusion at its finest with plenty of space for the musicians to strut their stuff. Personally, I need to be in the right kind of mood to listen to this music. More often, I find it a little too cold and fatiguing, and I eventually end up craving something with a little more soul. It must be absorbed in small doses.
Well, clocking in at nearly three hours, Live At Montreux 2004 is certainly no small dose. For the entire first set of the show, Corea leads the band through the majority of their latest album, 2004’s To The Stars, which is essentially a space-themed concept album based on the science fiction novel, of the same name, by the late Scientology prophet L. Ron Hubbard. Here lies the main problem. Although there are a few shining moments, this is probably the weakest album by the Elektric Band, yet it takes up the entire first half of the show, which lasted 67 minutes.
I was kind of shocked when I first saw Frank Gambale. He’s now sporting a completely shaved head and about 30 extra pounds since the last time I saw him. The man they call the "Thunder from Down Under" certainly still possesses the same lightning fast guitar chops as ever though. He also sits down with an acoustic a few times, most notably on the new "Alan Corday" and the classic "Eternal Child", and performs with equal passion. John Patitucci still looks like he is 24 years old, but he plays with the skill of a man who has been playing for 24 years – 24 hours a day. The guy is a marvel to watch, and you get plenty of great close-ups of his fretwork. Dave Weckl is easily one of the best jazz drummers in the world and he was simply amazing throughout.
At the end of the first set, Corea talks with the audience some, explaining the 11-year break between albums, and about how excited he was to be playing with the original Elektric Band again. He comes across as very down to earth…for a Scientologist. Ahhh, just kidding. After a short intermission the band returned to the stage to perform some of the older Elektric Band material, as well as the Return To Forever classic "Spain", which served as the first encore. What really surprised me was that two of the four older songs chosen, "C.T.A" and "Blue Miles" were from the Elektric Band II album, which didn’t feature any of these guys, except for Marienthal. They are certainly two of their best songs, but what about something from Light Years, Inside Out, or Beneath The Mask, which were completely ignored.
The overall production quality of this disk was quite good. You get both Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 surround audio options as well as stereo. Both surround mixes provided excellent instrument separation and clarity, which was crucial for a concert with five musicians of this caliber. The video was clean and sharp, but was never really challenged by much of a light show. The stage lighting was very subdued and focused mainly on the "to the stars" themed cosmos backdrop.
The camera work was probably the most problematic. Corea was terribly shot from the front and side mostly, instead of providing some rear and overhead angles to actually show his hands playing the keys. Often, you only get the side of the keyboard, with the top of his hands barely visible. Weckl got similarly disappointing treatment. During an amazing extended drum solo on "C.T.A", the camera focused more on Corea’s simple comping, rather than on the virtual drum clinic Weckl was putting on. The cameras stayed focused mostly on the center of the stage, meaning that Patitucci, Gambale, and Marienthal got some excellent coverage.
There isn’t much to complain about with this latest Chick Corea offering if you are already an Elektric Band fan coming in. All of the key players are here, and they certainly live up to their reputations. This would have satisfied me much more if the setlist had better represented the band’s whole body of work. Some behind the scenes footage and interviews would have been nice too. There were no bonus features. Overall, this is another fine contribution from the Live At Montreux concert DVD series.
Part 1: To The Stars
Port View 1
Mistress Luck – A Portrait
Mistress Luck – The Party
Port View 2
The Long Passage
Got A Match