Along with the dazzling modern jazz one expects from Chick Corea, his current band, Touchstone, brought the sights and sounds of new flamenco to Santa Barbara on Tuesday, including a marvelous dancer, Auxi Fernandez, who joined them onstage for the second half of the concert. The addition of the dancer invigorated the crowd, elicited cries of “guapa” (“good looking”) from some, and turned the atmosphere of Campbell Hall into that of a sexy Spanish nightclub for the remainder of the night.
With the exception of the encore — “Spain,” which is Corea’s best-known composition — the set was all new music from a new album, The Ultimate Adventure. Although Corea claims as his inspiration a 1940s L. Ron Hubbard science fiction novel of the same name, the music is beautiful and contemporary, and not spacey or dated. The songs are all sumptuous, delicate, and as balanced as a dancer’s perfect turn with her fringed black shawl — the mantilla.
Corea moved back and forth between electric and acoustic piano all night long, and sometimes more than once in the space of a single number. He is so musical, and his playing on both instruments blends so well rhythmically that these transitions were nearly unnoticeable. Only when he tweaks the reverb on the electronic keyboards or plays a particularly traditional-sounding bebop run on the acoustic piano was one reminded that he had moved again. The other players were uniformly excellent, lending great distinction to Corea’s gentle melodies and cascading time shifts.
The opener, “North Africa,” showcased Jorge Pardo’s soulful flute playing. The next number, “3 Ghouls,” shot us into interplanetary space for a while before settling into a funky groove, and then dissolved in a whirling palmas (hand-clapping) ending. The flamenco dancer joined on “King and Queen,” which Corea described as a flamenco parade. On “Spain,” Corea and percussionist Rubem Dantas took the stage for a piano-marimba duet before being joined again by the whole family, including the explosive Auxi Fernandez, who spun and profiled and whipped her big black veil for all she was worth. Lost in the music, she danced as though the night was hers alone, and the contagious excitement onstage rippled throughout the room in waves.