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Hong Kong gigs

Jazz pianist Chick Corea on his original Elektric Band’s 30 years of evolution, ahead of their Hong Kong gig

Bandmates who were in their 20s are now well established and Corea is 75, but their enthusiasm is undimmed three decades on from their debut, he says

PUBLISHED : Friday, 10 March, 2017, 7:03am
UPDATED : Friday, 10 March, 2017, 7:03am

Much has happened in the life of jazz pianist Chick Corea since he first performed in Hong Kong with his Elektric Band in 1987.

During those 30 years, including both concert and studio recordings, he has released more than 50 albums as a leader or co-leader. He has also picked up 16 Grammy awards to add to another six that were already on his shelf.

Always an artist who thrives on collaboration, he has begun, maintained or renewed musical partnerships with, among many others, vocalist Bobby McFerrin, banjoist Bela Fleck and guitarist John McLaughlin, and reconvened the band which made him famous in the early 1970s, Return to Forever, for a successful international tour.

He has also returned more than once to Hong Kong, most recently in 2009 with The Five Peace Band which he co-leads with McLaughlin, and before that in 2005 with the Elektric Band .

On that occasion, original bassist John Patitucci was missing from the personnel – Ric Fierabracci stood in – but for the Elektric band’s upcoming return to the venue where the band first appeared in Hong Kong we have, in the language of rock reunion tours, the “classic line-up”.

Corea had found what he considered an ideal rhythm section in Patitucci and drummer Dave Weckl for the band’s eponymous 1986 debut recording. After it was released the line-up was completed by saxophonist Eric Marienthal and guitarist Frank Gambale.

“The group you will see and hear in Hong Kong is the original Elektric Band that was fully formed by our second album Light Years. John Patitucci, Dave Weckl, Eric Marienthal and Frank Gambale. When a band stays together this long, it forms itself. That’s why we keep re-forming, because it’s an entity that has become a true group,” Corea says.

When the band started out, Corea was a veteran musician and composer in his mid-40s who had played with a long list of jazz greats, including Stan Getz and Miles Davis, as well as having Return To Forever and a successful solo career under his belt. The other members were all in their 20s and still making their reputations. But since the Elektric Band split each member has enjoyed critical and commercial success in their own right.

“The Elektric Band has definitely evolved,” says Corea. “We’re all a bit more experienced, but definitely not less excited to play. And we’re really looking forward to coming to Hong Kong.”

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Fans can expect the set to be a balanced selection from the music the five musicians have recorded over the past three decades.

“The repertoire we are drawing from for this tour spans almost every recording that we’ve done. I’m now using a laptop with a fresh set of sounds, but my main instruments for expression continue to be just a few of the basic keyboard sounds. The electronic keyboard area is in constant flux and I’m always experimenting,” he says.

Corea celebrated his 75th birthday last year with an extended run of performances with his many collaborators at the Blue Note jazz club in New York, but says that he largely prefers to “ignore the numbers that make up age” and has plenty of projects in progress.

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“I have a brand-new band I will be presenting this year together with my partner and old friend [drummer] Steve Gadd. We just finished making a recording – the first studio recording that I’ve made in quite a while. We will begin touring this autumn. It’s a new direction and I’m really looking forward to taking it out to audiences. In 2018 I’m planning to perform some of my orchestral music with various orchestras around the world.

“But the project I’m the most excited about is the expansion of my Chick Corea Music Workshops. I have found that I can connect to musicians all over the world through these online workshops which I’ve now been doing for a couple of years. But I plan on putting more effort into this direction and creating more workshops. I love to be there for musicians and share what I know, and also learn more about the art form, as I demonstrate the various ways I’ve learned to make music.”

Chick Corea Elektric Band, March 22, 8pm, AC Hall, Baptist University, Kowloon Tong, HK$380 (sold out) to $1,280, Cityline