Chick Corea named the Vigil, his most recent band, to mark the responsibility of older pioneers such as himself to protect the jazz past. But Corea is playful, so he treats this duty as a celebration of spontaneity, not a lecture, and a reinvention of earlier music in improv-driven real time. Two years ago, the Vigil made a tentative debut at Ronnie Scott’s, but a 2015 version adds the dynamic young rhythm-section pairing of Venezuelan percussionist Luisito Quintero and Cuban bassist Carlitos del Puerto – which jacks up the visceral excitement without swamping the creative space in which the 74-year-old Corea continues to thrive as one of jazz’s most inventively conversational piano improvisers.
Corea took his time at the band’s first show at Ronnie Scott’s this week – noodling with the electric keys, hinting at hooks that didn’t arrive over stop-start patterns from kit-drummer Marcus Gilmore, or sampled hip-hop grooves. A skipping dance riff at the grand piano led into Corea’s Royalty, mixing waltzing swing passages with reflective interludes in which the pianist, the powerful saxist and bass clarinettist Tim Garland, subtle guitarist Charles Altura, and the precisely fast-moving del Puerto would each tee themselves up for eventually vehement solos.
Corea’s Anna’s Tango, written for his mother, unleashed bursts of tango flouncing that would stop dead just as the punters were starting to shake their shoulders. Tempus Fugit, a 1940s bebop classic by Corea’s early piano influence Bud Powell unleashed a captivating stream of fresh melody from the leader, and a thrilling percussion climax of gleeful banter between Quintero and Gilmore. For the encore, Corea invited rising young British jazz star Jacob Collier to jam with his melodica on a medley of Concierto de Aranjuez and Corea’s classic original Spain. Collier played discreetly and looked a little awed, but the elder statesman warmly embraced him as a hot recruit to the musical art of jumping in the deep end.