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Tuneful Tribute

Chick Corea's latest project focuses on the music of Bud Powell.


Chick Corea has spent a lot of time on the road over the course of his career, landing in this area many times. Travel comes with the territory when you are a popular jazz bandleader and keyboardist, especially one who has tapped into the jazz-rock end of the music as Corea has since the '70s fusion band Return to Forever.

But his current project is something completely different, and well worth taking notice of, particularly for those who tuned out his electric music over the years. Corea is presently touring with a bona fide all-star group, which will be stopping tonight at Victoria Hall in Santa Barbara.

Joining Corea will be drummer Roy Haynes, trumpeter Wallace Roney, saxophonist Kenny Garrett and bassist Christian McBride, all significant players and leaders.

The musical focus? A tribute to the late, great bop pianist Bud Powell. "I've been incubating this idea for years and years," Corea said in an interview from his current home in Clearwater, Fla.

After he recorded and toured with the acoustic Chick Corea Quartet in 1995--documented on the album "Time Warp"--Corea decided to pull away from his own material in pursuit of radically different projects. For starters, he took up on an offer from old friend and sometime collaborator Bobby McFerrin to play Mozart with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, which McFerrin had been conducting.

"I thought that it was time to go into some study and personal enhancement," Corea said of his Mozart work, "which then opened up the scene for me to do a special project like this Bud tribute.

"All of a sudden, I found myself in 1996 being involved in Bud's and Mozart's music. I looked at it and figured, 'Man, I couldn't be associated with better cats,' " Corea said, laughing. "Bud and Amadeus, how could you turn those associations down?"

Another departure for Corea is the idea of working in a group whose time is inherently limited. In the past 25 years, Corea has been the mastermind of his bands, as composer, leader and conceptualist. "I'm used to putting bands together that I'd like to keep going," he said. "This one I knew would be a more or less onetime project because of the specialness of the personnel. For me, the project would have only worked with that group of people."

The effort culminated in an album, "Remembering Bud Powell," on Corea's own Stretch label under Concord's corporate umbrella, and selective touring. The timing was ripe in that two major Powell compilations were released two years ago, triggering a wave of renewed fervor for this somewhat obscure figure from the bebop era.

For Corea, Powell "has just been a touchstone for me throughout my life."

For 20 years, Corea called Los Angeles home, building the Mad Hatter studio and starting his own production company. But he and his wife, vocalist Gayle Moran, picked up and headed back east. In part, it was the call of Scientology, of which Corea has been a devotee for many years and which maintains a headquarters in the south Florida town.

"We came to love the area," Corea said. "Over the years, I began thinking, 'I'd like to live down there. I'd be able to do more Scientology courses, be able to be in a relaxed, out-of-the-way place by the beach, and then when I hit the road, I'll be refreshed.' "

Still, relaxing in Clearwater is not Corea's idea of a good time. There are always new musical horizons to explore, whether of his own invention or from the annals of Bud and Amadeus. In surveying the diverse terrain of Corea's musical landscape--from sideman with Mongo Santamaria, Miles Davis and others in the '60s to leader of his own bands--one discovers an unusually varied musical life.


Chick Corea & Friends will perform tonight at 7 and 8:45 at Victoria Hall, 33 W. Victoria St. in Santa Barbara. Tickets are $40; 963-0404.

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