"To the Stars"


Like John Travolta, Chick Corea is a Scientologist who has adapted a science-fiction novel by the group's leader, L. Ron Hubbard, to his chosen art form. Corea's new album, "To the Stars," is far more successful than Travolta's 2000 movie "Battlefield Earth" because the jazz keyboardist created an instrumental recording, relegating Hubbard's often clunky language to the CD booklet.

To translate Hubbard's tale of an interstellar, speed-of-light ship that slows time to almost nothing, Corea reassembled his original Elektric Band (bassist John Patitucci, drummer Dave Weckl, saxophonist Eric Marienthal and guitarist Frank Gambale) for the first time since 1991. This makes sense, for Corea's musical evocation of high-tech space flight demands his dizzying array of electric keyboards and Gambale's over-driven electric guitar.

Corea occasionally falls into his old bad habits of jazz-rock fusion excess, substituting frenetic virtuosity for melodic content and emotional connection on tunes such as the album-opening "Check Blast" and "Hound of Heaven." But the seven "Port View" interludes, computer-generated evocations of what's outside the ship's windows, have an understated, otherworldly feel.

Better yet are Corea's character portraits of the ship's commander, Captain Jocelyn, and his lover, Mistress Luck, which boast intriguing harmonies patiently built atop Latin-tinged melodies. Best of all is "Alan Corday," a portrait of the ship's homesick scientist and the album's only all-acoustic track.

-- Geoffrey Himes

Appearing Wednesday at the 9:30 club. * To hear a free Sound Bite from the Chick Corea Elektric Band, call Post-Haste at 301-313-2200 and press 8122. (Prince William residents, call 703-690-4110.)