PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


Chick Corea Elektric Band: To the Stars

Justin Cober-Lake

Chick Corea Elektric Band

To the Stars

Label: Stretch
US Release Date: 2004-08-24
UK Release Date: 2004-08-23

Chick Corea has spent much of his career trying different playing styles and composing various types of music. The experiments have paid off with 12 Grammy awards and much acclaim. On his newest album, he's reunited the Chick Corea Elektric Band to go to the most extreme place yet -- outer space. Corea based the music for To the Stars on the L. Ron Hubbard novel of the same name. In many ways, it's a supreme accomplishment with difficult technique passages and broad soundscapes; on the other hand, it's a journey that's too long to take.

For the sci-fi illiterate, the liner notes include a brief description of the storyline. Astronauts who travel between earth and its first colonies must deal with the fact the their planet ages so much quicker than they do as they travel at almost the speed of light. Corea's not so interested in narrative development, however, as he is in character sketches and studies in ideas. The album contains 17 tracks. Ten of these pieces are based on characters or concepts (such "The Long Passage", the trip between earth and the ship's destination, which takes weeks for the ship but appears as years to those on the ground). The other seven numbers are "Port Views" that are described as "[m]usical interludes portraying the vast vistas of space viewed through the ports of a spaceship". These "Port Views" vary in quality. While some of them are interesting little compositions, others are simply atmospherics, and too often they fall to the concept album's trap of existing solely to push forward the disc's conceit without advancing the CD's music. These short works benefit those listeners desiring to be taken to space, but probably not those just wanting some unique jazz.

At its best, the music of To the Stars can be quite captivating. Guitarist Frank Gambale plays some extremely difficult parts on this album, and it he succeeds in creating great sounds and engaging the listener rather than just showing off his immense prowess. "Mistress Luck -- The Party" lets him have some wild solo moments in a Latin-tinged number that truly captures a party atmosphere. Gambale remembers feeling overwhelmed when he first looked at the chart and solo for "Alan Corday", but there's no sense of hesitation on the recording. His acoustic parts succeed beautifully without drawing too much attention to themselves. Gambale's solos warrant full attention -- they're each stunning and some of the most interesting guitar work of the year.

Although the whole band is tight and skilled, the performances barely balance out the over-the-top composition and orchestration. To the Stars -- like the ship in its narrative, I suppose -- is continually bounced between styles and moods in ways that aren't always favorable. Eclecticism can be admired; needless space-y effects layering shouldn't be. Corea's ambition keeps the album from holding to an exciting jazz pattern, yet he doesn't create a true soundtrack either. "Hound of Heaven" demonstrates the problem on a local level. The song has elements of traditional small-combo jazz and mixes in some great Caribbean percussion. Unfortunately, the song's weighted down with moments of electronic sound that comes across as an '80s version of the future that just distract from the island-feel of the song as well as the sci-fi feel of the soundtrack.

To the Stars contains some great musical passages, and Corea's continuing to be an innovative composer. His newest album's just overwhelmed by too much dabbling it atmospherics and unnecessary musical vignettes. Even knocking off the 16 minutes of vignettes would have cut the disc down to a manageable length. Had he done that, though, Corea would have been less with left of the space-adventure feel that he was going for. It's an ambitious project, but it's not one that works on its full-scale, despite its multiple memorable moments.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.


Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.


'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.


Jazz Composer Maria Schneider Takes on the "Data Lords" in Song

Grammy-winning jazz composer Maria Schneider released Data Lords partly as a reaction to her outrage that streaming music services are harvesting the data of listeners even as they pay musicians so little that creativity is at risk. She speaks with us about the project.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 100-81

PopMatters' best albums of the 2000s begin with a series of records that span epic metal, ornate indie folk, and a terrifying work of electronic music.


The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.


'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.


1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.


'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.


The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.


Mary Halvorson Creates Cacophony to Aestheticize on 'Artlessly Falling'

Mary Halvorson's Artlessly Falling is a challenging album with tracks comprised of improvisational fragments more than based on compositional theory. Halvorson uses the various elements to aestheticize the confusing world around her.


15 Overlooked and Underrated Albums of the 1990s

With every "Best of the '90s" retrospective comes a predictable list of entries. Here are 15 albums that are often overlooked as worthy of placing in these lists, and are too often underrated as some of the best records from the decade.


'A Peculiar Indifference' Takes on Violence in Black America

Pulitzer Prize finalist Elliott Currie's scrupulous investigation of the impacts of violence on Black Americans, A Peculiar Indifference, shows the damaging effect of widespread suffering and identifies an achievable solution.


20 Songs From the 1990s That Time Forgot

Rather than listening to Spotify's latest playlist, give the tunes from this reminiscence of lost '90s singles a spin.


Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.


The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.


Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).


Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.