Jazz keyboardist Chick Corea works in a wide variety of settings with varied results, and his new solo album,"Touchstone," reflects the full spectrum of his recent activity. The album's six pieces feature Corea with six different bands on a record crammed with 45 minutes of music. Three numbers are entrancing; the other three are disappointing. There's a definite Latin feel throughout as Corea works with flamenco guitarist Paco de Lucia and Afro-Latin percussionists Don Alias, Alex Acuna and Laudir de Oliviera.
The sleeve-liner notes spout some vague mythological gibberish about a "touchstone" possessed by a hidden civilization in the Amazon jungle. The 11-minute title suite gets lost in the same spacey mysticism, as Gayle Moran's ethereal singing and Corea's chromatic runs drift aimlessly. De Lucia's fine Spanish guitar-picking finds a far more supportive setting in "The Yellow Nimbus," a trio piece with Corea and Alias. The threesome pursues quick, fragmented flamenco phrases with agility and pleasure before settling into a more thoughtful give and take.
On a quartet piece, "Estancia," the three Latin percussionists surround Corea's electric keyboards with subtly shaded, ever- shifting rhythms. On a quintet number, "Duende," Corea is joined by a string trio and by legendary alto saxophonist Lee Konitz. The sax issues a high, lonely, enchanting call, and the enchanted strings and piano follow to create an exquisite, classical-jazz chamber piece.
On these three delightfully successful pieces, the common element is Corea's willingness to understate the music, allowing the listener to eavesdrop on the musical conversations and gradually grasp harmonies and moods. On the three disappointing pieces, Corea bluntly pushes the theme.
"Compadres" reunites Corea's best- known band: the second edition of Return to Forever. Corea, guitarist Al Di Meola, bassist Stanley Clarke and drummer Lenny White prove they can still play hard and fast but little else. "Dance of Chance" features Corea's young touring musicians: trumpeter Al Vizzuti, saxophonist Steve Kujala and bassist Carlos Benavent. They, too, rely heavily on punchy unison lines played at quick tempos in an attempt to bowl over the listener.
Saxophonist Jan Garbarek and drummer Jon Christensen were once half of Keith Jarrett's acclaimed Scandinavian quartet. Christensen joins guitarist Bill Frisell and bassist Eberhard Weber on Garbarek's newest solo album, "Paths, Prints." Garbarek's high, haunting soprano sax leads the quartet through an enchanting, pastoral form of jazz for 50 minutes. If Henry David Thoreau left for Walden Pond today with a Sony Walkman attached to his belt, this is the tape he'd bring along.
One piece, "Considering the Snail," demonstrates the slow, meditative pace of the music. Yet the deliberate tempos also create an intense focus that will reward the patient listener. Another title, "Arc," shows how the instruments shape long, sustained notes into rising, falling and intersecting arcs. The two string musicians often slide and stretch notes to echo the long, elegant lines of Garbarek's soprano sax. The leader switches to ghostly wood flutes and Christensen to Asian percussion on the exotic 10- minute "Footprints."
Weber leads his quintet -- Frisell, reed player Paul McCandless (of Oregon), keyboardist Lyle Mays (of the Pat Metheny Group) and drummer Michael DiPasqua -- on "Later that Evening." He pursues the same pastoral approach at the same meditative pace as Garbarek. This time, though, Weber's bass is far more prominent and more sharply phrased, especially on the title cut. McCandless, who plays oboe, English horn, bass clarinet and soprano sax, is more classically oriented than Garbarek, and thus more interested in clear, balanced statements than in mimicking human expression. Weber consistently creates a thick ambience, even working human chatter and bird sounds into the 16-minute "Death in the Carwash." Garbarek's album is more pleasurable, though, thanks to stronger, surer melodies. ON RECORD, ON STAGE THE ALBUMS CHICK COREA -- Touchstone (WB 23699-1). JAN GARBAREK -- Paths, Prints (ECM-1-1223). EBERHARD WEBER -- Later That Evening (ECM- 1-1231). THE SHOWS TOUCHSTONE -- Chick Corea, Paco de Lucia, Don Alias, Carlos Benavent, Steve Kujala and Tom Brechtlein, Monday at 9 at the Wax Museum. JAN GARBAREK & EBERHARD WEBER -- Monday at 9 and 11 at Blues Alley.