The Full Mantilla

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.

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