NEW ALBUMS by the Chick Corea Elektric Band and Special EFX demonstrate what's stale and what's fresh in fusion jazz.
Despite Corea's skills as a composer and his discreet use of electronic instruments, the Elektric Band's "Light Years" is a soulless, derivative record. Nearly every tune on the expanded CD version is propped up by the now obligatory back beat, a rhythmic redundancy that quickly grows tiresome, and the recent additions of guitarist Frank Gambale and saxophonist Eric Marienthal reinforce the notion that Corea is now reaching out for a bigger piece of the pop-jazz pie. As a result, though polished and equipped with some winning melodies, especially "Second Sight" and "Starlight," "Light Years" has little more going for it than Corea's name.
"Mystique" by Special EFX, on the other hand, is boldly imaginative. Like Corea, Chieli Minucci and George Jinda tastefully combine acoustic and electronic textures in their arrangements. Yet tunes like "Hands of the Healer" and "Udu Voodoo" never fall into predictable rhythms. Instead, by making fanciful use of an exotic array of percussion instruments, the duo creates a lush setting for an album of music devoted to the endangered animals who inhabit the world's jungles.
THE CHICK COREA ELEKTRIC BAND -- "Light Years" (GRP 9546).
SPECIAL EFX -- "Mystique" (GRP 9543).
Both appearing Sunday at Carter Barron Amphitheater.