Through the decades, keyboardist Chick Corea has led a lot of different bands. To get a sense of how long he's been at it, consider that, in 1968, he recorded one of the greatest of all jazz trio records, "Now He Sings, Now He Sobs," with one of the greatest of all jazz drummers, Roy Haynes. Now, 45 years later, Haynes's grandson, Marcus Gilmore, is playing drums in Corea's latest group, the Vigil.
Wednesday at the Kuumbwa Jazz Center in Santa Cruz, the band made its Bay Area debut with two sold-out shows, covering several stylistic fronts: samba, electric fusion and acoustic modal jazz, stamped with that unique Corea-brand blending of taut clarity and twisting ornate melody. The group, which performs through the weekend at Yoshi's in Oakland, knows where it wants to go. But it seemed still to be in a formative stage during Wednesday's 80-minute late show, with roles being worked out and no one pushing hard enough to break through to that heightened sensory state that "vigil" implies.
The best tune came first: "Legacy," from the group's upcoming album. Much came together here: Corea's curlicue keyboard lines, like a funky loop-the-loop; rich percolations from electric bassist Hadrien Feraud, a 28-year-old Frenchman, very Jaco-like; and veteran British saxophonist Tim Garland's bottom-to-top tenor solo, dry-toned and roiling. Guitarist Charles Altura -- a young Stanford graduate who hails from the East Bay -- began his solo with spacious consideration, then turned on some heat, grew elaborate, entwining lines with Corea.
A lot of notes were played, without any clutter. The key was Gilmore, who doesn't sound like other drummers. In his mid-20's, he articulates across his drum kit, prodding the band from a variety of angles. He's got power and elegance, and he's never too busy. Gilmore lets you hear the detail in his chattering cross-rhythms, which hinted here at Headhunters-era funk, with its dark roominess and mysterious start-stop effects.
Corea's "Outside of Space" was next, but it didn't gel. Garland stated the floaty bossa-nova melody with an excessive saccharine warble. Altura soloed briefly, then quit. Next came a new arrangement of "Eternal Child," which Corea, 71, first recorded with his Elektric Band in 1988. Wednesday, he began on acoustic piano -- that clear, meditative sound goes straight to the heart -- then, after a few minutes, bounced the tempo up to a samba. The band grabbed on, then let go. Solos came and went; it felt like a rehearsal.
Corea's "Portals to Forever" glided toward a "Light as a Feather" Latin feel, then alighted in North Africa as a modal jazz anthem. It was effective '70s jazz, grooving over Feraud's solid ostinatos. Eventually, Corea, on acoustic piano, directed the band back toward 1960: a jazz waltz, not far from "My Favorite Things." But Feraud was out of step with Corea and Gilmore; it didn't swing very hard.
Neither did the encore, Thelonious Monk's "Straight No Chaser." Several minutes into it, Corea got it moving -- and then cut it off. Maybe the Vigil was feeling jet-lagged. Oh, well. Onward, to Yoshi's.
Chick Corea and the Vigil
When: 8 and 10 p.m., Thursday through Saturday, 6 and 8 p.m. Sunday
Where: Yoshi's Oakland, 510 Embarcadero West, Jack London Square
Tickets: $45-$65, 510-238-9200, www.yoshis.com.